Putting one area native in a college sports hall of fame is special, indeed.
But putting two area guys in one hall of fame, in the same school, on the same year, only magnifies the significance of such an accomplishment.
Former Valley High School three-sport standout Carl Merritt, Jr. obtained that honor along with New Boston’s Dave Bush back in April, when Merritt became one of nine former William Carey University (Miss.) student-athletes to earn hall of fame accolades with his induction into the 2017 WCU Hall of Fame class.
For Merritt, the award is an incredible honor, especially since it makes the Lucasville native the only person in William Carey history to be a part of both the school’s athletic and alumni halls of fame, with Merritt accomplishing the latter in 2015.
However, the former Valley product and Poplarville, Miss. resident says that it wouldn’t be possible without the work ethic that his parents, Louise and Carl, Sr., instilled in him and his brothers, Harold and Mark.
“Sports taught me how to make a commitment and keep that commitment,” Merritt said. “A lot of young people today need to learn the value of solving problems and staying committed to what they started. They need to finish what they start. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Well, I can’t afford to go to school.’ Well, my parents couldn’t afford to send us all at one time, so what did we do? We found an alternate way to go to college. That was through athletics. There’s a lot of ways that you can afford to go to college. You just have to stay committed and finish what you start.”
For all of the Merritt boys, that’s exactly the message that they followed throughout their careers growing up in the Valley system.
Carl, who is goes by Carl, Jr. from those who know him from Lucasville, not only played three sports in high school, but starred in all of them as the pitching hand also proved to be a big-time producer on the hardwood as a forward and on the gridiron, where the two-way standout proved to be an effective running back and linebacker. The 1974 graduate proved to not only be an All-SOC and All-District talent in all three sports, but was an All-State standout in all three calls, as well.
“From grade school all the way through high school, I played all three sports,” Merritt said. “I had many opportunities to go play football in college, but everybody agreed that I had a chance to excel in baseball at the collegiate level, so that’s what I did.”
After playing in the Del Rice Baseball League over the summer with a team that Merritt described as one that was “almost entirely made up of Lucasville and Minford kids,” Merritt, like fellow 1974 graduate Bush, and West Portsmouth’s Rick Ferrell before them, went to play for South Shore native John Stephenson at William Carey. Harold and Mark — the latter transferring to William Carey from Tennessee-Chattanooga after his sophomore year — joined their brother there as well as an influx of talented young men from Scioto County soon invaded the Hattiesburg, Miss.-based school.
“Dad told us, ‘Boys, a college education comes through athletics,’” Merritt said. “We believed him. In fact, we all ended up at William Carey, graduated together at the same time, and played ball there.”
Initially, Carl, Sr. tried to be an effective athlete in two sports at WCU, as Merritt played basketball and baseball with the Crusaders. But after playing baseball and basketball for the first two years of his athletic career at William Carey, Merritt got a piece of advice from Stephenson, a 12-year Major Leaguer before landing in the Crusaders’ athletic program.
“John told me, ‘You really need to stick with baseball,’” Merritt said. “You might have a future in that.”
And the stats show that Stephenson certainly had a good point.
Over the course of his baseball career at William Carey, the pitching standout arguably proved to be one of the go-to arms on the staff for the Crusaders by leading WCU in earned run average and saves in his freshman and senior seasons — two crucial areas that allowed William Carey to win 28 straight en route to a 53-11 mark and a berth in the NAIA World Series in 1978. During that year, Merritt collected an 8-2 mark with a blistering ERA of 1.20 — which ranked in the top five nationwide for NAIA colleges during the 1978 campaign — as Merritt helped lead William Carey to 168 wins across his four-year career.
Since that time, Merritt has done his job in sticking to his commitment. In fact, after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in physical education from William Carey in that same year, the Lucasville native followed his academic success up by obtaining a master of administration and supervision degree from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1985 as well as a specialist’s degree in education from Carey in 1990.
In 2006, Merritt made his rise in the education ranks officially known when he led Poplarville High School, as its principal and assistant superintendent, to a National Blue Ribbon Award, which is annually awarded to the top 500 schools in the United States.
And it’s no small feat to get a school to that point, either. According to its website, National Blue Ribbon schools must qualify under “Exemplary High Performing” status, which are schools have their state’s highest high school graduation rates and the highest achieving students (the top 15 percent) in English and mathematics, measured by state assessments, and “Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing” status, which are schools have made the greatest advances (top 15%) in closing subgroup achievement gaps in English and mathematics over the past five years, measured by state assessments.
That accomplishment led Merritt to a promotion, then done off of the recommendation by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, to the top seat in the school district as its superintendent, a position that he’s held since 2007.
And according to Merritt, that motivation all comes from the blueprint that his fellow Scioto County natives laid down before him.
“Gene Tenace (former Valley High School standout and future World Series Champion) was a great role model to me,” Merritt said. “Larry Hisle was, too. And there’s many more. You just look at Scioto County, and even after that bunch came along, there’s been some excellent student-athletes who have proven themselves as special people, too.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7