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Four new members of Martins Ferry Wall of Honor selected

With the Martins Ferry Athletic Hall of Fame’s nine-member Class of 2020 complete, it’s time to turn the attention to another aspect of recognition – the “Wall of Honor”.

This category – entering its fifth year – serves as a way to thank those people who have made significant contributions or support to the athletic program, not as an athlete or coach, but in a variety of “behind the scenes”, motivational or inspirational ways.

This year’s selections include Larry Green, Gail Horner Ahmed, Heloise Knapp and Bob Zilai.

While not directly part of the Hall of Fame, these individuals will be honored during Hall of Fame Day – both at the afternoon reception at the high school and during on-field ceremonies at halftime of the Purple Riders’ home game against Beaver Local on Friday, Oct. 23 – and their photos will be placed directly across from the Hall of Fame display outside the cafeteria at MFHS.

If that game is postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, then this year’s selections will be honored along with the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 at the 2021 induction which is currently scheduled for Friday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Previous honorees to the “Wall of Honor” were Jim Knellinger, Bill Meyers, Bill Pratt and Dr. Divakar Bangera (2016); John Applegarth, Fred Beck, Henry McCue and Robert “Shorty” Wilson (2017); Frank W. Bowen, Annie C. Tanks, Robert McNabb and Larry Deaton (2018); and Warren Hood, Tony Collette, Russ Armstrong and Tony Suriano (2019).

Here’s a look at this year’s selections:

Larry Green

A 1962 graduate of MFHS, Green stepped up in a big way to assist the Purple Rider athletic program, making a major donation of $68,000 toward the construction of the athletic facility located inside the Dave Bruney Athletic Complex which was named in his parents’ honor – the George and Edna Green Purple Rider Fieldhouse. The 9,000-square foot building – which opened in the fall of 1997 – houses the Purple Riders’ locker rooms, coaches room, weight room, shower room, trainers’ room, equipment room and an officials room.

He also sponsored academic scholarships for Ferry students for several years in memory of his high school drafting teacher, Charles ‘Bud’ Keyser and he also made a contribution to the MFHS marching band at one point to help purchase uniforms.

Green was a two-sport athlete at Ferry High, known for a nasty curveball as a pitcher on the baseball team and he also played basketball.

Currently, he is co-owner of SCA Construction, Inc. in Independence, Kansas.

Gail Horner Ahmed

Some say that there might have been as many people making their way to Ferry Stadium during Horner’s four years performing as the featured twirler of the MFHS Marching Band as there were fans going to watch the football games, and that probably isn’t far from the truth. After all, from 1967-70, the team won just seven of 40 games, including two winless seasons.

Horner dazzled the crowd in pregame, at halftime and in countless parade appearances with her ability to twirl, sometimes using multiple batons and even lighted ones.

Before that, however, she burst onto the scene as a child prodigy of sorts, becoming a five-time national champion baton twirler between the ages of 5 and 13. She became even more renown by making not one, but two appearances on the popular Ed Sullivan Show to display her talent – July 9, 1961 at the age of 7 and a return trip on March 18, 1962 at the age of 8.

Horner obtained her bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College in 1975 and, of course, was the Hilltoppers’ featured twirler for four years; and she earned her master’s degree in Education from the University of Dayton in 1991. A certified music teacher (grades K-12), she taught music at Jefferson Union High School (now part of the Edison Local consolidation) for two years and then spent the next 35 in the same position in the Tipp City School District. She has been the director of the all-volunteer Tippecanoe Community Band for 40 years and she also teaches music at Edison State Community College in Piqua.

Heloise Knapp

A teacher in the Martins Ferry School District for more than four decades, Miss Knapp is regarded among the all-time “super fans” of Purple Rider athletics. At one point, during a 30-year span, she had attended all but five of the approximately 150 home football games.

Knapp also was the cheerleader coach/advisor for nearly two decades and she organized the “Purple Pepper”, the school’s pep club. She was well-known saying that her favorite sport was “Whatever is in season, but football is always first in the heart of a Ferry old-timer”.

She was also among those responsible for organized the bonfire-style burning of LIFE magazine’s Feb. 10, 1962 edition that gave a less-than-flattering view of not only the city but the entire Ohio Valley and she sent a less-than-flattering letter to that publication’s editor with a few choice words – no doubt a few in Latin – included.

Bob Zilai

Athletics have been a big part of Zilai’s life, dating back to his playing days as a Purple Rider and continuing for many years in coaching.

A 1959 MFHS graduate, he was a three-year letterman in football and baseball and a two-year letterman in basketball. Zilai then graduated from Ohio University in 1963 and obtained his master’s degree from West Virginia University in 1967.

Zilai’s first foray into coaching came at River View High in Warsaw where he spent five years as a junior high football and basketball coach. An opportunity to return to his alma mater arose in 1968 and “Z” joined the Ferry staff, serving one year under Pete Barren followed by two years with Larry Coyer, four years with Regis Woods, five years with Bob Bruney and then until the late 1980s under Dave Bruney. He also was an assistant wrestling coach for two years for Steve Kish.

Zilai’s resume also includes more than 50 years in the Purple Rider Booster Club; 40 years in the Martins Ferry Chamber of Commerce; 20 years on the Martins Ferry Board of Education and 16 years as Ferry’s representative on the Belmont-Harrison Career Center Board of Education. He was also active in the Boy Scouts of America, spending time as scoutmaster of Troop 62 at the First United Methodist Church and also several years on Ohio River Valley Council of Boy Scouts.

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