A salute to the memory of ‘Fish’

Mickey Fisher congratulates son Ryne for winning his second Commanding General's title at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Mickey Fisher congratulates son Ryne for winning his second Commanding General's title at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Mickey Fisher viewed a golf course with an educator’s eye. It was a place for life’s lessons: rules, etiquette and sportsmanship.

An accomplished athlete himself, Fisher knew that scores mattered. But conduct was paramount. That ultimately would be how lives would be measured after the trophies had tarnished.

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Mickey Fisher

So when 144 friends and family tee it up July 10 in the Mickey Fisher Memorial Golf Tournament at Cole Park Golf Club in Fort Campbell, Ky., they’ll pay tribute to a man who coached and taught the children of the 101st Airborne Division for 33 years. Two months after retiring from the Fort Campbell School System last year, Fisher, 55, died of a massive heart attack.

Saturday’s benefit will honor Fisher in a manner worthy of his legacy. It will be golf with a goal: endow a scholarship for the dependent of a fallen 101st soldier to Fisher’s alma mater, Austin Peay State University in nearby Clarksville, Tenn.

At a golf course named for a hero of Normandy, they’ll honor a giant of the local military-civilian community.

• • •

Mickey Fisher and his wife, Mary, shared a vision with other Clarksville residents in the mid-90s: a circuit of local golf tournaments that would encourage friendship, sportsmanship and a lifelong appreciation for the game. Both career educators, the Fishers had more time in the summer than money to offer. With other volunteers, the Clarksville Junior Golf Tour was born.

The CJGT plays among the five area golf courses – four public, one private. The tour met a growing demand in a city with a strong golf pedigree dating to native son Mason Rudolph, who won six State Opens and five PGA Tour titles.

Of the Fishers’ three boys – Hunter, Brett and Ryne, all named for Hall of Fame baseball players – the youngest son embraced golf the most. Ryne would mature from those CJGT events to land a scholarship at Missouri, from which he graduated this year.

Mary Fisher, who retired this spring after 35 years of teaching, said Mickey brought an educator’s passion for knowledge to junior golf. He viewed it as an extension of the classroom, where the curriculum focused on rules, etiquette, integrity, relationships. They were all part of a larger incubator in which Clarksville’s junior golfers would mature.

“We couldn’t afford to put money into the programs like some others,’’ said Fisher, speaking recently from a junior event at Swan Lake Golf Course, where she was volunteering. “We wanted to donate our time, to help people who helped our children when they were growing up.’’

As she spoke, a news conference was being held across town at Fort Campbell to explain the 101st Airborne Division’s rising death toll in Afghanistan. The sprawling Army post, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border, dates to World War II. Its pulse quickens as the national drumbeat calls the 101st into action. The streets – with names such as Carentan, Bastogne, A Shau Valley and Desert Storm marking the division’s legacy – aren’t as busy these days. More than half of the 30,000 “Screaming Eagles’’ of the 101st are deployed, most to Afghanistan.

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Commemorative plaque of Mickey Fisher at "The Fish Bowl."

The U.S. military is renowned for closing ranks around its troops’ survivors, but what becomes of a child’s dream?

That’s where Ed Sneed Jr. saw opportunity amid a community’s anguish.

“I really wanted to do something special for Mickey,’’ said Sneed, a financial adviser at Raymond James in Clarksville. “It was a perfect matchup.’’

Sneed, who coached Fisher on Clarksville High’s golf team in the early 1970s, recalled “a pressure player’’ who “was one of my all-time favorite kids. ‘Yes sir, no sir’ – everything you wanted as a coach.’’

Fisher, a single-digit handicapper into his 50s, would prove to be a natural coach himself. The son of educators, he oozed competence in his role teaching middle-school physical education and coaching the high school basketball team.

As a ball-hawking guard, he was a key reserve on Austin Peay’s 1973 NCAA Sweet 16 team. “A solid leader, not a rah-rah type,’’ recalled Sherwin Clift, the longtime radio “Voice of the Govs.’’

Fisher coached the boys basketball teams at Fort Campbell from 1987 to ’98, competing in one of Kentucky’s toughest districts.

Jimmy Young, a coach at a rival school, said Fisher’s teams reflected their coach.

“Most guys who were good fundamentally were good coaches,’’ Young said. “He put a tough team on the floor.’’

Ultimately, Fisher would surrender his love of basketball to his family, his teaching and his role with junior golf.

“(Basketball) wasn’t his whole life,’’ said Young, who had played golf with Fisher on Aug. 5, 2009, the day he died. “He loved it but wanted to do other things. He wanted to play golf and work with junior golf. He just wanted to teach, spend time with his boys.’’

Fisher left an impression on his young pupils, colleagues say. His co-workers marveled at his ability to reach youngsters.

“They adored him,’’ said Angie McLean, who co-taught physical education with Fisher at Wassom Middle School, where the gym was dedicated as “The Fish Bowl’’ and a mural painted in his honor. “He had a great sense of humor and respected the children.’’

When one would act up, Fisher would tell him to “drop and give me 10.’’ The miscreant would hit the floor, pound out 10 quick push-ups and then bounce back onto his feet, proclaiming, “Thank you, Coach Fisher, for caring.’’

This weekend at Fort Campbell, that “caring’’ will be paid forward. The memory of a coach, teacher and father will represent so much more: Hope and a future for the child of a fallen soldier.

“Fish’’ would have liked that.

• • •

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