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Monday, May 31, 2021

Baseball, Softball Add 36th District Tournament Crowns

Highlands Wins All Seven District Tournament Titles in Academic Calendar Year

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Jake Gulley (6) digs in before throwing a pitch in the 36th District championship game against Newport Central Catholic. 

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When the final out occurred in the 7-0 36th District Tournament win over the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds, the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (21-16 overall) helped the school make history.

Highlands won all seven district tournament titles in volleyball, soccer, basketball, softball and baseball this academic school year for the first time in school history in the current format. The soccer and volleyball teams joined the current format in 2012. The baseball team has won nine straight district tournament titles.

"I'm glad we were the ones to be able to clinch it. That's kind of cool," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "We just want to be competitive in everything. That's what I love about Highlands and Fort Thomas. We want to compete academically. We want to compete athletically. That's pretty neat."

Things at Highland Park started with senior pitcher Jake Gulley. He pitched six strong innings striking out seven, walking one and allowing just three hits.

18 N. Fort Thomas Ave. 

"Coach Baioni always emphasizes to the pitchers to be able to throw off-speed pitches on fastball counts,"
Gulley said. "Earlier in the game, I couldn't really locate so I had some walks. But later in the game, I started really getting a good feel for my curve ball. I threw it on counts they weren't expecting it, which caused them to swing and miss."

Junior Connor Schwalbach pitched the seventh inning. Schwalbach struck out three allowing just one hit. Highlands made two errors and left seven on base. NewCath made one error and left six on base.

Highlands faced NewCath junior pitcher Luke Wiles in the 4-2 loss on April 19 at Highland Park. The Bluebirds scored three runs against him in the second inning and never looked back. Highlands played as the visiting team as the second seed in the tournament.

The Bluebirds batted .344 (11-for-32) in the game. Senior Jason Noe went 2-for-3 with a triple, run batted in and run scored to lead the way. Junior Mason Welsch went 2-for-4 with a double and three runs batted in. Senior Braden Becker also went 2-for-4 with a double and run scored.

"We faced (Wiles) earlier in the year and he shredded us," Baioni said. "We took much more aggressive approaches. That was a really good sign."

Welsch had a two-run single in the second to put Highlands up 3-0. But senior Owen Carris hit a solo home run in the fifth to put Highlands up 4-0.

The Bluebirds added two in the sixth inning. Welsch doubled home a run and Gulley hit a sacrifice fly. Junior Nick Robinson singled home Becker in the top of the seventh to make the final score.

"(NewCath) had a couple big hits in the earlier innings that made us get on our feet and play at our best," Welsch said. "That double helped put the game away. (Wiles) can just locate his fastballs really well. He can hit outside, in. He can throw off-speeds for strikes. He can locate them really well and that's what make it so tough to hit him."

Becker won the tournament's most valuable player award. Senior John Barth and Gulley made the all-tournament team. The 9th Region Tournament will take place at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Stadium in Florence.

Highlands will face a runner-up from another district in the region in the first round. The opponent will be either Covington Catholic, St. Henry, Conner or Ryle. 

Highlands 15, Dayton 0:

Highlands (28-9) won its third straight 36th District crown in convincing fashion at Veterans Field in Newport over the Lady Devils (11-9) in three innings.

"We came to play. Sometimes it's hard to get up when you beat a team earlier in the year," said Milt Horner, Highlands Head Coach. "I could tell from the first inning that we were focused. We were aggressive on the base paths and took advantage of some of their mistakes. They didn't know how to handle our aggression."

Barre3 Fort Thomas. 90 Alexandria Pike. 

Only one reached base via a walk against Highlands sophomore pitcher Kennedy Baioni. Baioni struck out three.

The Bluebirds batted .600 (12-for-20) in the victory. Junior shortstop Anna Greenwell homered on her way to a 2-for-2 day with four RBI and three runs scored. Freshman Bailey Markus went 3-for-3 with a triple, three runs scored, one stolen base and two RBI. Senior Bri Tharps went 3-for-3 with a double, two RBI, three stolen bases and two runs scored.

Senior Caroline Class and freshman Michelle Barth also had one hit and two RBI. Class had a double and stolen base. Seventh grader Payton Brown also scored twice and stole one base. Highlands left just two on base.

Brown won tournament MVP honors. Markus, Baioni and Barth made the all-tournament team. Brown and Markus did not get an out offensively in both games.

"We 100 percent need to be ready to go out and play," Markus said. "Not that the competition was bad. But it will be better starting Saturday."

Highlands scored four runs in the bottom of the first. The Bluebirds added 11 in the second and held Dayton scoreless in the top of the third to end the game.

36th District Semifinal Sunday: Highlands Baseball, Softball Run-Rule Opponents

Bluebirds Record No-Hitters

PHOTO: Cody Skaggs, Highlands seventh grader Peyton Brown (3) scores in a recent game.

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It's has been exactly 10 years since the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (20-16 overall) missed out on the 9th Region Tournament.

Highlands will be making a ninth straight appearance in the 9th Region Tournament after run-ruling the Bellevue Tigers, 10-0 in six innings at Highland Park. The Bluebirds have won nine straight 36th District tournament championships.

Highlands senior John Barth picked up the victory. He struck out 11. Junior Abe Hils pitched the sixth as the two combined for a no-hitter.

The Bluebirds scored twice in the first inning. Senior Braden Becker hit a sacrifice fly to score senior Jake Gulley and junior Mason Welsch.

Highlands did not score again until the fifth inning. Becker singled in Gulley and senior Vance Moore walked with the bases loaded to score senior Owen Carris to put Highlands up 4-0.

"We just started taking care of business and taking advantage of our strengths will (Jake) Gulley using his speed and the rest of us getting more quality at-bats creating base runners and putting runs together," Moore said. "I'm just glad we got it going later - better than never."

The Bluebirds scored five more times in the inning to go up 9-0. Senior Jason Noe had a two-run single and Welsch had a two-run double before scoring on a Gulley single.

Highlands batted .462 (12-for-26) in the game. Noe, Becker, Welsch and junior Foster Schuett had two hits each. Becker drove in three with Noe and Welsch driving in two each. Welsch, Gulley and sophomore pinch runner Brennan Kelsay scored two runs each.

Highlands takes on Newport Central Catholic back at Highland Park at 3 p.m. for the district championship.

Highlands 15, Bellevue 9:

Highlands (27-9) also no-hit its district semifinal opponent in three innings.

Sophomore Kennedy Baioni pitched the first two innings walking one and striking out four. Seventh grader Kaitlyn Dixon pitched the third striking out one.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Highlands Boys Play in State Starting Tuesday in Nicholasville

Laskey Making Sixth Appearance at State Tournament

Contributed Photo. Highlands senior Peter Laskey is making his sixth appearance at the state tournament Tuesday.

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It will be a case of a seasoned veteran and two newbies at the state tournament June 1 through 3 for the Highlands Bluebirds boys tennis team.

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Highlands senior Peter Laskey will be making his sixth appearance at the state tournament and third in singles competition while the freshman doubles team of Eli Back and Eli Hornsby will go down for the first time. Laskey has a career record of 2-5 in state tournament action. He won first round matches at singles in 2018 as a freshman and partnered with current girls head coach Jeffrey Schenk at doubles in 2016 as a seventh grader.

"Hopefully they aren't feeling pressure," said Kris Laskey, Highlands Head Coach. "They're going with good attitudes. Getting to state and doing the best you can is all I can ask. They'll make the most of it down there."

Peter Laskey faces University Heights junior Ethan Alexander at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Top Seed Tennis Club in Nicholasville. He'll play again at 1:30 p.m. at the same spot with a win.

"I'm really looking forward to the state tournament," Peter Laskey said. "I think the experience will help me. If I face a younger opponent, I have an edge mentally. I try to be calm and sound on the court so I think that will help me this year."

Back and Hornsby face Johnson Central senior Nathaniel Kumar and junior Hilal Sofyan at Noon at Top Seed on Tuesday. They play again Tuesday at 3 p.m. with a win.

"It's going to be a lot of fun to go down there and I think that as long as we have fun, we'll be fine," Hornsby said. "I think doubles is a lot more fun because you're on the court with someone. Eli and I have always been good friends. We communicate well on the court."

Highlands finished 20-2 as a team facing the likes of North Oldham and Corbin this season. The Bluebirds also beat eventual 9th Region champion Covington Catholic.

"With the amount of matches we got in, we got looks at different teams," Kris Laskey said. "I don't know they could be any more prepared. I think that can only be a benefit going to state because I think experience does help."

Players had to make it to the singles or doubles semifinals to qualify for state. Some teammates have been helping them prepare for state at Tower Park.

"It's awesome. Two weeks may not seem like much," Back said. "But it's a lot if you don't play for a week. You can get rusty. Even the seniors that could be done with tennis are coming out here and helping."

The team has not forgotten they could not play last spring along with the other sports. Things were not in the clear in the spring. But admission is free and there will be no major restrictions since the games are outdoors.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Photos: Sneak Peek of the NEW Newport on the Levee


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By Jessie Eden

If you're a Fort Thomas resident, you may see a very familiar shop at the Levee. 

Colonel De Gourmet Herbs and Spices is just one of the many new shops to open its doors at the newly revamped Newport on the Levee Grand Opening this weekend.

The "new" gallery space at the Levee

In fact, if you're looking for a fun way to kick off summer, make sure you swing by the Newport on the Levee and support some of these local business owners that are celebrating that next step in expanding their businesses -- beautiful brick and mortar locations within the fully renovated Gallery space of the Levee.

The Gallery, just outside the entrance to "Trade".

Phone: 859-905-0714 - Email: This is an advertisement.

Grand Opening Weekend

Starting at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 29, the Newport on the Levee will kick off its special Grand Opening event which includes;

10:30 a.m.
Public ribbon cutting ceremony in the Plaza to celebrate the grand opening of the new Newport on the Levee. After the ribbon cutting, kids are invited to participate in the fun with custom Newport on the Levee tie-dye t-shirt-making 

11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Live music by Floyd and The Walkmen

3 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Live music by Loopman Dan in The Plaza.

7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Music includes DJ Jules + DJ Patrick with a fireworks show at 9 p.m

Additionally, guests will be able to experience several art encounters, including live muralist Heidi Schwatz from Paint Your Event in the Gallery Building painting photos of the city skyline and other landmarks near the Levee, as well as a personalized tote bag artist in Trade™.

17 new shops & restaurants

The Gallery is now home to 17 new retailers and restaurants in the renovated space consisting of a 113,000-square-foot gathering area for the community. 

Permanent storefronts opening at or adjacent to the Gallery Building include Native®, Wooden Cask, Pizzazz Interiors, Little Spoon Bakery, Bon Mi Street, Bluegrass and Sass and Colonel De Spices. 

Wooden Cask Brewing Company, which has another location on York Street in Newport, is slated to open its Levee location this summer. In the meantime, the brewery will still have a temporary bar set up in the Gallery and will be selling drinks on the patio during events.

Beeline, a full-scale cocktail bar with an expansive outdoor patio, will open this fall.

The new "Trade" Space 

Several of the new shop concepts are housed in a space within The Gallery called "Trade". Here's a brief outline of some of them;

Ten Thousand Villages has all different kinds of fair trade gift items. It is the oldest and largest Fair Trade organization and has been creating income opportunities for artisans in developing countries for 60 years by bringing their products and stories to markets throughout Cincinnati. 

Ten Thousand Villages has two other locations besides the Levee -- O'Bryonville/Hyde Park and The Shops at Harpers Point on Montgomery Road.

Leaf & Limb carries all kinds of plants, quirky pots and garden decor. 

Queen City Cotton Candy is a concept that started as a food stand and is now a pop up shop within the Gallery. The shop even offers unique wedding or birthday party favors.

Queen City Cotton Candy

LuckyKat is a women's clothing shop featuring all kinds of eclectic finds.

AnewClothing is a vintage concept highlighting 'pre-loved clothing' and giving it a new life. The shop features children's clothes to women's clothes.

J. Saladino is an athletic wear brand established in 2015.

Bridgeview Box Park debuts new line-up

The new lineup at Bridgeview Box Park will debut the following businesses; 4EG’s The Buzz, Kon-Tiki, West Sixth Brewing, Blackmarket Saloon and CrepeGuys.

CrepeGuys debuts at NOTL's Bridgeview Box Park

Summer Music Series at the Levee

The Levee also kicked off its seasonal music series this week. Every Thursday from now until Septemeber 2, guests can enjoy live music from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. See the full line up here. 

Check out more photos of the Levee's new businesses below and click here to learn more.

Artifact, a new store inside "Trade" in The Gallery

Seating area, located just across from the Bridgeview Box Park, in front of the Newport Aquarium.

The inside of The Gallery

Leaf & Limb inside "Trade"

Leaf & Limb

Pizzazz Interiors is located just outside The Gallery doors

St. E. Fort Thomas nurse manager honored with Mentoring Plus Seeds of Hope Award

Melissa Takata. Provided. 

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Melissa Takata, Nurse Manager of the St. Elizabeth Ft. Thomas Intensive Care Unit, was honored recently by Mentoring Plus at its annual Seeds of Hope Gala at the Newport Syndicate.

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Takata was honored for her heroic efforts as leader of the Ft. Thomas ICU during the pandemic. She was responsible for managing not only her own unit but an additional unit that had to be opened as COVID-19 numbers spiked.

Takata spent countless hours assisting her team and others to ensure both patients and frontline staff were offered the best care possible. Her contributions to the community extend beyond her work, as she also volunteers at her church and children’s school.

Mentoring Plus serves Northern Kentucky area teens and their families, promoting healing, cultivating personal growth and encouraging healthy and productive community involvement.

The Seeds of Hope Awards honor exceptional people in the Northern Kentucky community who have made a positive impact on people’s lives.

Newport Aquarium welcomes new species of shark just in time for Friday’s Shark Summer kickoff

Newport Aquarium. FTM file. 

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New sharks have arrived at Newport Aquarium. The two sandbar sharks represent an exciting species that hasn’t been featured at the aquarium in almost eight years.

With a lively spirit and quick pace, the new animals are sure to become a favorite of visitors. The sharks arrive as the aquarium is kicking off Shark Summer this Friday. The all-summer-long event honors and celebrates these fascinating and often misunderstood animals.

There’s perhaps no other fish that captures the human imagination like sharks. Bringing about feelings ranging from fascination to fear, you can’t help but feel the power of these animals. The new sandbar sharks are no exception. They are fast swimmers and guests will find them constantly on the move as they view them from underwater in the Surrounded by Sharks Tunnel. The signature tall dorsal fins on their backs can also be seen cutting through the water’s surface while guests cross over them on Shark Bridge, a 75-foot-long suspension bridge positioned just inches above the water’s surface.

“It’s exciting to present these new sharks to our guests,” said Kelly Sowers, Newport Aquarium’s General Curator. “They’re fascinating to watch up-close and give us the opportunity to teach people about the value of sharks. Protecting a vulnerable species like this is so important.”

Both sandbar sharks were born under professional care at Newport Aquarium’s sister aquarium in Camden, NJ in October 2018. Measuring up at about three and a half feet, they’ll ultimately grow up to eight feet long and 200 pounds each. As part of Shark Summer, guests are invited to submit their name ideas for the young sharks as they welcome them to their new home.

Shark Summer runs from Friday, May 28 to Sunday, September 12. The event includes more in-depth storytelling around the aquarium’s dozens of sharks from around the world plus guest favorites like touching sharks and crossing Shark Bridge. Capacities are limited so advance ticket purchase is required. For more information and tickets, visit

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Fort Thomas Man Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud and Tax Evasion

Fort Thomas business owner Kevin R. Welsch pleaded guilty today to federal charges of wire fraud and tax evasion.

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Kevin R. Welsch, 48, of Ft. Thomas has pleaded guilty today to federal charges of wire fraud and tax evasion.

In his guilty plea, Welsch admitted defrauding clients of the debt collection business he owned and operated, RCC Services, Inc. Specifically, he admitted to collecting debts on behalf of creditors and keeping the money for his own use. He also admitted to collecting more than debtors owed (sometimes making multiple, unauthorized debits from their accounts) and charging his clients for fees/expenses that he never actually incurred. Finally, Welsch admitted evading taxes in the process.

Welsch's Fort Thomas home and office were raided by the federal agencies in April 2019.

Lori Kott says she is one of RCC Services victims. She owns an industrial coating business in Orange County California. She said that she found Welsch's Fort Thomas business by googling collection firms that had the capability of collecting debts nationwide. 

She said that she originally contacted him to collect two debts: one for $5,400 and one for $3,400.

"I can see why he's able to get people. He's charming, he's nice, but he's a pathological liar," she said. 

Kott said that the money that her company was out wasn't enough to cripple her business, but it was the principle of the matter. "I was very upset about being taken advantage of. When I heard that other people were victims, I wanted to do what I could to prevent him from harming other people."

Kott said she set out on a mission to find other victims, many of them local people from Northern Kentucky. Once she was able to compile a list, she contacted then-Detective Derek Faught of Fort Thomas Police. 

"Derek was very important to this. I could not get anyone to listen to me and Derek listened. He took the time to go through everything and comb through all documentation. He was instrumental in getting this case where it needed to go."

"It was worth every minute of time and effort. He picked the wrong person," said Kott. "He's harmed a lot of other people, and I'm happy he's not going to get away with it."

Carlton S. Shier, IV, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky; Bryant Jackson, special agent in charge, IRS – Criminal Investigation; James Robert Brown, Jr., special agent in charge, FBI Louisville Field Office and Casey Kilgore, chief of police, Fort Thomas Police Department, jointly made the announcement.

The investigation was conducted by the IRS CI, the FBI, and the Fort Thomas Police Department. The United States was represented in the case by Assistant United States Attorney Elaine K. Leonhard.

Welsch is currently scheduled to appear for sentencing before United States District Court Chief Judge Danny C. Reeves in Covington, on September 2, 2021, at 10 a.m. Welsch faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the Court, after its consideration of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of sentences.

Wednesday Highlands Round-Up: Baseball, Softball Drop Tough Decisions

Teams Lose by Similar Scores

PHOTO: Cody Skaggs, Highlands junior first baseman Gracie Schlosser (17) and freshman second baseman Bailey Markus (12) get in position during the game against Pendleton County on Wednesday.

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The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (26-8 overall) did not start out strong and could not recover in an 8-5 defeat to the Pendleton County LadyCats (20-10) at Winkler Field.

Highland has lost both meetings to Pendleton County this year. The LadyCats' head coach is former Highlands head coach Rob Coffey. Highlands also lost 7-6 in Falmouth on April 19.

Pendleton County started the season 12-3. That includes a 4-2 win over defending state champion Louisville Male on April 17 in the Dan Cummins Classic at Great Crossing in Georgetown.

"You think about key injuries and you don't think one or two people are going to mess up that chemistry. But it did for us for a long time," Coffey said. "We took some hits. We're playing a great schedule. I think we're where we're wanting to be at the right time. With no more injuries, I think we'll do really well."

Pendleton County moved to 4-3 against 9th Region competition. The LadyCats won the 10th Region two years ago then beat Dixie Heights, 1-0 in the semi-state game before losing 12-0 in six innings to Central Hardin in the state quarterfinals. Coffey said Pendleton County has battled its fair share of injuries, but everyone is currently healthy.

The Bluebirds committed four errors to two for the LadyCats. Highlands also left 10 on base to seven for the visitors.

"We should have scored more. We made some mistakes that we can't repeat," said Milt Horner, Highlands Head Coach. "We were a little flat. It's the middle of exam week. Does that have something to do with it? I thought we would be fired up. We were in the game."

Highlands wound up outhitting Pendleton County, 12-11. The Bluebirds batted .364 (12-for-33) to .354 (11-for-31) for the LadyCats. Freshman second baseman Bailey Markus led Highlands going 3-for-3 with a walk.

Sophomore Carly Cramer and seventh grade outfielder Payton Brown both went 3-for-4 for Highlands. Brown scored twice and Cramer stole a base.

Highlands trailed 6-0 entering the bottom of the fourth. But sophomore starting pitcher Kennedy Baioni homered scoring senior Bri Tharps. The Bluebirds added one run that inning and scored once in the fifth to trim the margin to 6-4.

But Pendleton County scored twice in the sixth inning to go up 8-4. The Bluebirds scored once in the bottom of the frame to make the final score. Highlands loaded the bases once with no out.

"That's been a work in progress because we start a seventh grader and two eighth graders," Coffey said of Pendleton County's defense. "The girl that made the play in center field is an eighth grader. We've had a couple tough times. But they're really good athletes and they responded really well. The instincts and all that other good stuff are coming. You have to make those plays against good teams."

Baioni fell to 12-5 with the loss. She pitched the first four innings. Seventh grader Kaitlyn Dixon pitched the next two before Cramer pitched the seventh. Pendleton County scored six earned runs.

Highlands concludes the regular season at Scott (11-10) on Thursday. Game time is 5:30 p.m.

Ryle 8, Highlands 5:

The Bluebirds (19-16) lost their final regular season game to the Raiders (16-17). Rain around mid-day moved the game to Highland Park.

Seven walks hurt the Bluebirds. Ryle built an 8-1 lead entering the bottom of the fourth. Ryle had two errors and left nine on base to one error and 11 left on base for Highlands.

The Bluebirds batted .323 (11-for-34) to .276 (8-for-29) for the Raiders. Junior Ryne Wiseman went 2-for-2 with a double and run scored. Seniors John Barth and Vance Moore both went 2-for-4 with a stolen base. Barth had a run batted in and senior Jason Noe doubled in a run.