Ex-boxer trades ring for strings

Burt Hays of Vienna has traded in his professional boxing gloves for a guitar and harmonica.

Hays, 71, won the West Virginia middleweight professional boxing title in 1975 and the state light heavyweight title in 1981. His last boxing match was a four-round exhibition in 2000 at the Dils Center in Parkersburg.

These days, Hays enjoys playing the guitar and harmonica while singing old-time country music songs by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and rock ‘n’ roll tunes from the 1950s and ’60s by Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Tuesday at noon he entertained area residents at the Wood County Senior Citizens Association center on Market Street. He was invited to perform by his daughter Stephanie Deem, activities director at the senior citizens center.

Hays has performed at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8127 in Vienna, J.P. Henry’s, nursing homes, high-rises and the Apple Butter Stir-off in Belpre. He will play music to help a charitable cause.

In the 1970s, Hays played the guitar at a club he owned in Parkersburg, the Crazy Horse Saloon.

“And I sang to Stephanie when she was a little kid, usually ‘Me and Bobby McGee,'” Hays recalled.

When I asked Hays which he preferred, boxing or guitar playing, he said his favorite activity was teaching youth how to box, along with some life lessons.

He trained youth at the Boys Club and Salvation Army in Parkersburg. His young boxers competed in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. “I would fight on the same card,” Hays said.

Hays said his first boxing match was a Golden Gloves-sanctioned event in 1954, and he started his amateur and professional boxing careers in 1969. Out of about 50 fights, Hays said he won 38 of them.

Besides being a professional boxer, Hays has been an iron worker, roofer and worked in the insurance business.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Hays put on teen dances at the Dils Center. He figured it was a good way to get teenagers from various sections of Wood County to communicate with each other and build friendships.

At one dance, 808 teens showed up, Hays said.


An access road into a Florida school has been named for a beloved educator who grew up in Parkersburg. Leslie Morris Lane was dedicated on Feb. 8 at Simmons Career and Exceptional Center in Plant City, Fla., near Tampa. Leslie Cooper Morris graduated from Parkersburg High School in 1961 and was named the first principal of the Simmons Career and Exceptional Center when it opened in August 2004. Morris retired from this position in June 2010 and passed away on Aug. 12, 2012, at the age of 69. “She (Morris) was a very classy lady and an awesome administrator,” said Belinda Robinson, principal’s secretary at Simmons Center. “She had a passion to help students, even as an administrator. We miss her terribly.” Robinson said a proposal has been made to change the school’s address to reflect Morris’ name. In honor of Morris, Tampa Bay Chapter 194 of the Council for Exceptional Children has created The Leslie Morris Community Impact Award, which will be given to an individual or group that supports students with special needs in the community.


Jeff and Peggy Sheridan of Parkersburg received two surprises associated with their 50th wedding anniversary last weekend. The couple’s five children, Peggy’s out-of-town siblings and other relatives arrived for surprise parties Friday night at the Blennerhassett Hotel and Saturday night at J.P. Henry’s. Peggy said she didn’t expect the celebrations because her and Jeff’s anniversary is Feb. 23. They were married in 1963 at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Parkersburg and graduated from Parkersburg Catholic High School in 1961. The Sheridans lived in Wisconsin, Chicago and Germantown, Tenn., for 24 years before moving back to their hometown in May 2011 after Jeff retired. “It has been fantastic renewing friendships,” Peggy said. For Peggy, last weekend was a whirlwind of activities filled with tears and laughter. “I want to thank all my family and friends for coming to the celebrations,” she said.

Contact Paul LaPann at plapann@newsandsentinel.com