Clermont County’s contributions to U.S. Olympic success have been outstanding

August 9th, 2008    Author: Richard Crawford    Filed Under: Sports

The Summer Games of the Olympics are upon us. It is a time to remember those Clermont countians who were a definite part in representing the United States in this most prestigious of world-wide athletic events.

One of those from Clermont County is Ken Stewart, a resident of Batavia Township.

Stewart has been recognized for many years as one of the county’s outstanding sportsmen. At Batavia High School, from where he graduated in 1958, he was a letterman in football, basketball, track and field (as a sprinter) and baseball.

After graduating from Ohio University, he began his teaching and high school coaching career at Amelia High School beginning the 1964-65 school year. He taught many fields of science. Two of the athletes he coached were Kurt Franke, class of 1968, who was a free agent of the Minnesota Vikings professional football team, and the other was John Wellerding, class of 1972, who was in the finals of the trials in the marathon run for the 1984 Olympic Games.

Ken Stewart, Batavia Township resident, served as a track and field official for the 1996 games that took place in Atlanta. Regarded as one of the best track officials anywhere, here he begins a race that took place last spring at the Anderson Invitational
He ranks as one of the county's all-time most successful coaches. He has many times been chosen by his peers as the Clermont County League (CCL) coach of the year in track and field, cross country and tennis. He and Frank Conyers served as the first wrestling coaches in Amelia High School history and he led the Barons to being the best defensive football team in the CCL several times.

Two of the athletes he coached were Kurt Franke, class of 1968, who was a free agent of the Minnesota Vikings professional football team, and the other was John Wellerding, class of 1972, who was in the finals of the trials in the marathon run for the 1984 Olympic Games.

Stewart is best known for his prowess in track and field. Today he is one of the most highly regarded and sought after officials in Ohio. He has also been asked by many schools to coach their track and field and/or cross country teams.

In 1996 he was selected to be one of the Olympic officials for track and field to represent the United States. These games took place in Atlanta.

"I applied to the United States Track and Field (association) to be an official for the Olympics and told them of my experience," said Stewart who recently completed his 41st year of officiating track and field events. He was soon after chosen to officiate the games in Atlanta.

Just before the Olympics he officiated the United States Track and Field time trials.

"There were five practice areas for the athletes in Atlanta and I handled the shot put and discus area," said Stewart. "I also got to mark the marathon route with paint in the streets of Atlanta with (United States distance runner great) Frank Shorter."

He enjoyed almost everything he saw and worked on at the Olympics.

"I got to watch quite a few of the events. Security was very tight, but our (official's) passes got us in free in a special area," he said. "There was military on every corner after the bomb incident in the park. It was unusual for me. I had been going to that park almost every night, but I didn't go that night because I didn't like the entertainment.

"At night the officials stayed on the floor of a high school gymnasium. This building was in a rugged neighborhood. It had three floors and amazingly it had no windows. . .

"For our uniforms we were provided with shoes, socks, shirts, pants, and a hat."

Stewart said the highlight of the games for him was "watching Michael Johnson run the 400 (meters). We got to talk to him after the race. He talked to people and signed autographs. Many of the Olympic athletes have ego problems, but he was a class act."

The major minus for Stewart was "the politics." He noted some people who regarded themselves as celebrities felt they should not have to obey rules.

He had a particular run in with well-known television journalist Bryant Gumbel.

"We were not allowed to admit anyone onto the track. Bryant Gumbel shows up and I told him he couldn't go out on the track. No interviews and no photos were allowed on the track during practices. He demanded to see the head official who also told him there was no admittance. He lost his temper and we saw and heard him as most other people never do."

Stewart pointed out Carl Lewis had an entourage that also felt it should receive special consideration and allowances.

Stewart remembers one particular incident as very emotional and heart-warming.

"There was a team from somewhere in Africa. I can't remember any more what country it was, but they got off a bus and not one team member had a pair of shoes and some of them had never worn a pair of shoes before. We (the officials) got together and gave them some of our (athletic) shoes so they could compete in the games with shoes."

"Stew" is particularly beloved by his former athletes and students at Amelia High School, but just about every athlete or young person whose life he has touched anywhere or at any school has been impressed with his knowledge of sports and his compassion toward them as people.

"The best thing I've ever got from all of these years has been watching young kids develop into good athletes and people and go on to college," he said.
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