Former athletes join Kent State Hall of Fame

Mike Crissman

Seven former Kent State student-athletes and one administrator were inducted to the Varsity “K” Hall of Fame on Saturday, in the ballroom of the Student Center.

Dirk Hayhurst, one of this year’s inductees, won four championships as a pitcher with the Kent State baseball team from 2000 to 2003.

Hayhurst holds the school record for most strikeouts and innings pitched.

“It’s awesome,” Hayhurst said. “It’s a huge honor and all the other cliché things you’re expected to say. Personally this is a big accomplishment for me because I never thought I would achieve it.”

Hayhurst was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2003, and he pitched two full years for both the Padres and the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s currently playing with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Then, in 2010 Hayhurst wrote “The Bullpen Gospel,” a book detailing life as a minor leaguer, which became a New York Times best seller.

“It’s probably more important than my entire athletic career,” Hayhurst said.

Blanford Fuller, 1959 graduate and former tennis pro, is another member of the 33rd class of Hall of Fame inductees who said he felt humbled by the honor.

“I never gave (the Hall of Fame) a thought,” Fuller said. “It was a real surprise.”

Fuller was Mid-American Conference Champion in singles in 1956 and 1959. He played tennis until he was 26, winning all the major championships in the Western Tennis Association, which included Ohio and eight other states.

Fuller returned to Kent State in the late 1960s to pursue a master’s degree in telecommunications and continued as the head coach of the tennis team from 1972 to 1979.

“The year after I quit coaching, the university got rid of tennis,” Fuller said while laughing. “The grudge is over.”

Fellow inductee Beth Obruba, former track and field team captain and two-time All-American, won competitions in javelin, discus and shot put while attending Kent State. After graduation, she said she made the Olympic trials but quit competing after a year because the sport “kind of died out on (her).”

“Every time I think of the school, all I can think of is weather like this and shoveling off the track in order to have practice,” Obruba said. “We always had to go a little above and beyond what other people had to do. We were competing against people from other warmer areas, but we just found a way to get it done.”

The remainder of the 2011 induction class included former Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy, golfer Martina Gillen, football player Mike McKibben, basketball player Billie Jean Smith-Goldman, football player Jack Rittichier and Mel Mellis, long-time supporter of Kent State athletics and member of the National Athletic Development Council.

Alan Ashby, assistant athletic director for communications, said three of the inductees were unable to attend the ceremony. Among them was Joshua Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns, who had a prior commitment with the NFL to take part in its Play-60 campaign.

“He’s taking a young fan to the Super Bowl,” Ashby said. “He was all set to come here and then the NFL kind of stepped in, and he felt obligated to do that. We understood.”

Each inductee was also recognized during halftime of the basketball game against Central Michigan on Saturday. They will be permanent members of the Varsity “K” Hall of Fame located on the second floor of the M.A.C. Center.

Contact Mike Crissman at [email protected]