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Phoenixville area natives Horace Ashenfelter and Mike Piazza are two former local athletes who were recently inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
In an announcement made on July 19 at a news conference, Ashenfelter and Piazza were chosen along with such athletes as Maxie Baughan and Tommy Thompson of the Eagles and Johnny Callison of the Phillies.
The ceremony was held Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Society Hill Sheraton.
Piazza grew up and played baseball through the Phoenixville Area School District and youth programs. Piazza became a catcher who played with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics in Major League Baseball. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza earned a reputation for being one of the best hitting catchers of all-time since he holds the record for the most home runs hit by a catcher. He is eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame next year. He was voted National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers back in 1993 and was also named an All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.
Phoenixville Area High School retired his jersey number 13 this past April. He was also recently inducted into the second class of the Phoenixville School District Sports Hall of Fame. Piazza starred as a power hitter in the old Ches-Mont League before graduating from Phoenixville in 1986, where he played first base for the Phantoms under head coach John “Doc” Kennedy.
Ashenfelter was born on Jan. 23, 1923. Some sources say he was born in Phoenixville while others say in Collegeville. He went on to serve in World War II, earned his degree from Penn State University and then wen ton to compete internationally from 1947 to 1956 as a runner.
Ashenfelter was considered one of America’s finest runners during his career. He won 15 national AAU titles and three collegiate national titles. Although he was considered a long shot, Ashenfelter was the surprise winner of the steeplechase at the 1952 Summer Olympics at Helsinki, Finland. He finished ahead of Vladimir Kazantsev of USSR and John Disley of Great Britain, and he broke Kazantsev’s unofficial world record.
Since Ashenfelter worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it led to humorous comments about him being the first American spy who allowed himself to be chased by a Russian. In addition, Ashenfelter won the Sullivan Award as outstanding amateur athlete for the year 1952.
Ashenfelter won the Millrose Games 2-mile run from 1952 to 1955 and again in 1957. His best winning time was in 1954 at 8:53.3. He was inducted into the Millrose Games Hall of Fame in 201 as a five-time champion.
Ashenfelter now lives in Glen Ridge, N.J. He was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey in 1998. The indoor track facility at his alma mater, Penn State, is named in his honor.
A race, the Ashenfelter 8K Classic, is held annually in his honor in Glen Ridge. It is attended by runners throughout the region. The event’s logos frequently depict the legend himself.