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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Sports Writer
When Steve Thompson and Jude Spalding took to the softball field, they never dreamed of someday being hall-of-famers. But now, that’s exactly what they are. The two Washington County residents are among this year’s inductees into the Kentucky Softball Hall of Fame and Honor in Lexington. Thompson and Spalding attended the induction ceremony last Saturday.
“It’s a real honor,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get into something like that.”
Thompson is a native of Washington County, but his family moved to Loretto in Marion County after the fourth grade and he graduated from Marion County High School. Steve took an interest in softball at an early age, but really didn’t get serious until he was in his 20s.
“I grew up at the ballpark,” he said. “My dad played when I was a little kid, and I would run around catching foul balls. I started playing when I was about 16 years old. Then I got more into it when I was around 20. I started playing for Jackie Arnold here in Springfield. That’s when I started traveling around, doing a lot of playing all over the country.”
During his softball career, Thompson helped win five state tournaments, and he was a member of the 1995 and 1996 Amateur Softball Association Class “A” World Champions.
“Steve is one of those hard-nosed guys,” said Washington County High School head girls’ basketball coach Bernard Smalley. Smalley was a coach on the 1996 championship team. “He was a pitcher and a lead-off hitter and he gave you 120 percent every time out. If you wanted a clutch hit, you got it from Stevie. He was one of those guys that you could depend on. He was an excellent teammate and this is a much-deserved honor for him.”
Smalley also played with Jude Spalding, and said Jude was another guy the team could depend on in the clutch.
“I played with Jude for about 15 years,” said Smalley. “If we were down by a run with two outs and he was up, the game was over, because he was going to hit that game-winning home run.”
“Those were the kind of spots that I loved to be in,” said Spalding. “You get that adrenaline rush and it just kind of takes over.”
Spalding was born in Marion County, but his family moved to Manton in Washington County when he was five years old. He started playing softball in 1971, and for the first few years, he worked his way up through the ranks, progressing with better and better teams.
“A bunch of us from high school got together and played in the Loretto league,” said Spalding. “I had to bum rides off of my brother who lived in Loretto. He took me to the ballpark, then I’d hang around and play, then I’d have to catch a ride home.”
After stints in the Springfield and New Haven leagues, Spalding played for coach Arnold, winning the Kentucky “A” state title in 1988, which was the first of three titles in his career.
“We were so close as a team. When we weren’t playing, we were together taking batting practice and trying to get better. We worked at playing well.”
Spalding continued to play until retiring in the mid-90s.
“1995 was the last full year I played,” Spalding said. “I had back surgery in 1996, so I thought that would be a good time to get out of it. I haven’t touched a softball since then, but I’ve been to a few games.”
Spalding said that being a hall-of-famer is “truly humbling. I love the game and I’ve met a lot of great people.”
Spalding now spends time with his family and making a living.
Thompson has stayed active in organized baseball, coaching Little League in Washington County, and he will be coaching baseball at Washington County Middle School starting this spring.
Spalding added, “Real thanks need to go to Jackie Arnold for all of his hard work to raise money for the team and putting in endless, thankless hours.”
The Kentucky Softball Hall of Fame and Honor is located at Applebee’s Park in Lexington, Ky.