Once-in-a-lifetime events helped form special Year That Was in local sports
By Jim Turner


Posted on June 17, 2015 9:54 PM



The just completed school year at Logan County and Russellville high schools was filled with monumental milestones in local sports, some of which can never be duplicated and some which most likely won’t be.

The once-in-a-lifetime events included the 75th Anniversary Celebration of Rhea Stadium, the induction of the charter members of the Logan County Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame, and the first-ever Clash of the Cats Alumni Football Game.

The unlikely duplicated category includes two former Cougar teammates being on teams which reached the same NAIA World Series, and two athletes being named Kentucky Player of the Year in their sport.

Let’s look at each of those individually and then talk about some other highlights of the Year that Was in Local Sports.

1)The first football game ever played on the hill overlooking downtown Russellville came on Thanksgiving Day in 1939. Russellville alumni and school officials made the 75th anniversary observance of the event a season-long celebration.

Serving as honorary captains at the home games were Larry Johnson, Johnny Guion, Sonny Duncan, Brad Watson, Toby Nichols, Joe Hicks, Roland Cox, Albert Head, Michael Benton, Darwin Washington, General Jerry Humble, Huey Hinton, Harold ‘Tub’ Hinton, James Holman, Bobby Dawson, Bob Ballance, Alderson Clark Jr. and Dr. Pat Kirkpatrick. (Since then, Mr. Holman has died.)

Also descendants of the players and coaches on that first team to play at Rhea and of Thomas S. Rhea, for whom the field is named, were honored on the field. They included Mac Donaldson, Tom Noe, Jane Noe Duncan, Clark and John Rhea, Will Rosser, Beth Rosser Merritt, Jane Brown Dodson, Victor and Logan Dodson, Shirley Pillow Nylin, Carol Wheeler Gaddie, John Wheeler, Marilane Wheeler Kersteins, Blake Kersteins, Ann Province McReynolds, Emma McReynolds and Lee Barclay McCombs.

Also there were Clarkie Milam and Jeannie Bowles, whose grandfather, Walter V. Leedom Sr., and great-uncles, Tom Rhea and Dr. Guy Clark, were members of the school board which approved the creation of Rhea Stadium.

Greg Owens, a 1973 RHS graduate, coordinated and master-minded the entire celebration, as he does most alumni activities involving athletics. Additionally, he has worked tirelessly this year on the new R Club Memorial which is being built by Billy, Cody and Matt Costello at the base of the Rhea Stadium wall on the corner of Summer and Eighth streets. He also led this year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the second Kelly Russell Classic in baseball.

Among those who help him with these projects are Jean Reynolds, Ann McReynolds, Sonny Greene, Chris McGinnis, Diane Gilliam Walker, Jo Ann Bennett Russell, Principal Kim McDaniel and staff members Mary Celsor and Patsy Hendrick.

2) The first eight members to be part of the Cougar Foundation Hall of Fame were all present to be inducted in front of a full house at LCHS between Clashes of the Cats in early February. It was an impressive assembly of talent and success.

Those inducted were Brenda Chapman Strickler, Lillie Mason, Fred Tisdale, Mark Thompson, Joseph Jefferson, Katherine Neely Murrie, Terry Clayton, Lee Dockins and Bob Birdwhistell.

(For a reminder of why they were Hall of Fame worthy, see the section marked * at the end of this article.)

Among those who worked to make the Hall of Fame a reality were Richard and Louise Holloman, Bill and Nancy Gaines, Bob Nylin, Stacey Mason, John Ferris, LeAnn Meguiar Powell, Coach Steve Duncan, Billy Bingham, Jimmy Kent Wilson, Marissa Hopkins, Dafnel DeVasier and Debbie Brown. Alex Keltner, Tracey Gilbert and Bryan Fuller of the sponsoring First Southern National Bank provided a welcome presence.

3) The first-ever Clash of the Cats Alumni Football Game was played at Rhea Stadium in April and was a huge success. Not only did the football programs at RHS and LCHS take home about $4,000 each, but the 80 or so players and a standing room-only crowd had fun, including legendary RHS coach Ken Barrett, who helped coach RHS to a win.

Long after the game ended, people were still standing on the hill or on Ken Barrett Field relishing this special moment.

Memories include the oldest player on the field, Russellville’s Reggie Gough, playing enthusiastically, coming to the press box for pre-game and halftime interviews on WRUS, and taunting the Cougars good-naturedly; current RHS coach John Myers coming into quarterback the Panther alumni successfully, although he took some hard licks from Jason Hendley & Jon Richardson; huge LCHS linemen Adam Gafford and Alan Moncrief looming over the line of scrimmage; father and son Maurice ‘Mo’ Beard & Dequan Beard playing on the same Panther team; long-time Panther assistant coach Darnell Cross playing for his alma mater LCHS and his son, Shawn Cross, playing for the Panthers; and the aforementioned Joe Jefferson wearing his Colts helmet and coming all the way across field to tackle recent UK starter Mikie Benton to prevent what seemed destined to be a Panther touchdown.

Among those who made the event succeed were Myers and coaches Kyle Hines and Todd Adler of LCHS along with a radio crew which included John Brett Reynolds, Andy Woodall, Chris McGinnis and me.

4)  Caleb Bruner became the first athlete in the Logan County School System named the best overall player in his or her sport in the state in 15 years, dating back to Katerine Neely-Murrie winning the state golf championship. The other one before her was Lillie Mason when she was Miss Basketball in 1981.

Like Neely-Murrie, Bruner was coached by Ethan Meguiar.

Bruner was chosen Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year in baseball after having been the preseason favorite to win the honor. He also was the only Kentuckian named first-team Louisville Slugger All-American. Additionally, he was Fourth Region Player of the Year and first-team All-State.

A member of the Kentucky state champion Little League teams when he was 10 and 12, he was an integral part of Coach Kevin Gettings’ Little League World Series team in 2009. His pitching was one of the big reasons the Cougars won the regional title two years ago.

All 10 of the members of that World Series team played baseball throughout high school. Ian Woodall, Barrett, Croslin, Zack Denney, Joe Holliday and Jacob Wood graduated in 2014 with Matt Harper, Daniel Beaty, Tucker Baldwin, Desmon Quarles and Bruner graduating this year.

Bruner will play for WKU. Harper will join Woodall on the Spaulding University team this fall. Croslin, Denney, Woodall and Holliday were on college teams this spring.

5) Tacorian ‘CoCo’ Darden became one of the most decorated players in Russellville’s glorious football history. He was named Class A Player of the Year, Fourth Region Player of the Year, first-team All-State, and a member of the winning Kentucky Team in the Border Bowl.

He also played well in basketball for Coach Phil Todd and made it to state in track while running for Coach Dennis Sydnor.

6) Two former Cougar baseball teammates were on college teams which played their way into the NAIA World Series in Idaho recently. Junior Ryan Harper was the designated hitter for Lindsey-Wilson College and hit over .400 during the regular season. Senior John Logan Dockins was a first baseman for the Faulkner University team which finished third in the nation.

As far as we know, no other local athlete had ever played in a college world series, and these two made it the same year.

7) Both Logan County basketball teams won 13th District championships while being coached by former Cougars, Finley Baird and Lonnie Mason.

It was the first boys title for the Cougars in 22 years and the first sweep for LCHS since    1988, over a quarter of a century ago. Both wins came by a single point with Coach Phil Todd’s Panthers and Coach David Clark’s Franklin-Simpson Lady Cats falling just short.

(For a look at who was on those last teams to win and sweep, go to the **section at the end of this article.)

Seniors on these historic teams were Tucker Baldwin, Taylor Blakemore, Kaleb Coursey, Jose Garcia, Tahmir Graham, Joey Hust and Ben Wight for the Cougars and Maegann Hardison & Kapreshia Powell for the Lady Cougars. The play of juniors Taleia Mason, Brooke Barnes, Torrie Pollard, Rachel Barnett & Cierra Johnson was essential

It was the second straight district title for the Lady Cougars. Baird, who was a leader of the first Lady Cougar team in 1983 which reached the regional finals, retired as the chief recruiter of minority students at WKU and was immediately named to the new role of dean of students for Logan County Schools.

8) The Lady Cougar volleyball team continued its winning ways and dominance of the 13th District. Coach Steven Lyne’s team won its 12th straight district title, running the program’s win streak to 88 matches against Russellville, Franklin-Simpson and Todd Central. Coaches Rob and James Imlay have shared in this streak throughout.

Amber Carroll & Catherine Miller, who were sophomores, were named all-region. Junior Chanler Steenbergen was one of the regular season leaders. Kapreshia Powell was the only senior, ending a long career of helping the team succeed.

9) The Lady Cougars won their third straight district soccer championship, beating Todd Central 4-2 in the finals. Coach Dan Duncan’s team went undefeated in the district in the regular season, too. The team is 14-1-1 in the district over the past three years and 33-17-2 overall. Daniel McCarley, who coached the team in its earliest years, was the coach in that first title year and Duncan the last two.

Breanna Baptiste, Logan Williamson and Emma Cartas were among the top offensive threats and Lauren Burnett the goalkeeper. Brittney Barton, Kelsey Coleman, Becca McElfresh and Rachel Cunningham were seniors.

Meanwhile Coach Eric Evans’ Cougars were district soccer runner-up. Team award winners were Erik Williams, Noah Bray, Josh McKinney & Coby Foster, all sophomores. The team’s seniors were Tanner Chapman, Kelly Eicher, Jose Garcia, Tahmir Graham, Andrew Gregory, Christian Hutchison & E.J. Offutt.

10) Lady Panther softball enjoyed a great revival under second-year coaches Brandy Nuyt Trimble & Jessie Baker. The addition of Trimble’s sister, Coach Amanda Nuyt Hampton, was also a positive.

After having gone 16-171 over the past eight seasons, Russellville shocked the local softball establishment by winning seven of its first eight games for the best record in the region at the time. Two of those wins came against district opponents. When they beat Todd Central 10-1 in March, it was the program’s first district win since April 2006, ending a string of 52 straight district losses.

Then came a 3-2 win over the Logan County Lady Cougars, who were young but talented.

Two months later, Trimble’s team beat the Lady Cougars again, this time 2-1 in the district tournament. It marked the first postseason win for RHS softball since Coach Tom Thompson’s Lady Panthers beat Logan in the 2005 district tournament a decade earlier.

Sophomore pitcher Tara Gilbert had a super season both pitching and batting. She homered in a 4-3 loss to perennial champ Franklin-Simpson in the championship game. Junior first baseman Johnea Pendleton also provided power, and the rest of the infield, Rachel Fisher, Allison McDaniel & Cierra Collins,plus catcher Taylor Gray and an outfield of Malynn & Brooklyn Gray and Tonisha Hampton stepped up their defense on the way to an 11-17 record, including 7-9 in the region and 3-5 in the district.

Fisher, the only senior on either the Lady Panthers or the Lady Cougars, was also the RHS class valedictorian.

The Lady Cougars’ dismal record overshadowed the solid play of some youngsters, including seventh grade shortstop Brea Croslin and sophomore Macy Meacham. Named all-district were pitcher/second baseman Meagan Ferguson, outfielder Torrie Pollard (both juniors) and Croslin.

11) The RHS football team had an outstanding season and could have advanced further than the Class 1A regional finals if they hadn’t been in their final season in the same district as state powerhouse Mayfield. John Myers was named district coach of the year and was on the Kentucky Border Battle coaching staff.

In addition to Darden, seniors were Jacory Bard, Brian Clinard, Logan Hannah, Lee McMurry, Trevian Patterson, Jacob Procter and talented fullback/defensive end Desmon Quarles.

12) The Bowling Green Hornets, who made Russellville’s Jim Young Gymnasium their home for two seasons before moving to LCHS this spring, won the championship of the Central Basketball Association. Deandre Scott hit the winning shot in the final seconds to beat the homestanding Fort Wayne Flite in Indiana. Teraes Clemmons, Kalen Kimberland & Damarius Smith played key roles.

The Hornets are coached by former RHS soccer, basketball and baseball standoutNathan Thompson, who has coached Panther soccer, been an assistant basketball coach, and served as the school’s athletic director. He still is the RHS golf coach.

13) RHS baseball had another outstanding season. Of course, Bruner played a key role as did fellow seniors Matt Harper, Tucker Baldwin, Daniel Beaty & Hunter Britt. Meguiar’s team won 24 games, fourth most in the region, and reached the regional tournament for the 11th straight season.

14) RHS senior Brian Clinard had a good senior year. After being the starting center on that winning football team, he finished second in the region in archery, placed in five invitational tournaments including finishing second at Muhlenberg County and Chandlers, and was named Fourth Region Male Archer of the Year. Jennifer Clark was his archery coach.

Then this spring, he signed to play football for Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Additionally, Logan County senior Kaleb Coursey, who used his quickness and good hands in football, basketball and track, signed to play football for Lindsey Wilson College.

15) The Logan County girls track team enjoyed a great resurgence behind young runners, including Meredith Johnson, Brianna Baptiste, Taleia Mason, Jessica Hines, Lauren Burnett & Abbi Lindsey.

The future is bright for this team, but apparently it will be under a new coach. Greg Howard, who has known great success through hard work as the track and cross country coach at LCHS for many years, has been named the school’s athletic director. Although some schools, including Bowling Green, Glasgow & Russellville, allow their athletic directors to coach a sport, Logan County doesn’t.

16) The LCHS AD job opened when Hugh McReynolds announced his retirement after 23 years on the job. He was one of only three men to have held that position in the school’s 33-year history. Bob Birdwhistell and Bob Nylin were also assistant principals while functioning in this capacity. Hugh was the first non-administrator to fill this role, and he did it with precision and efficiency.

During his tenure, LCHS doubled its sports offerings from 7 to 14, teams from 20 to 47 and participants from 219 to 639. During that time, the baseball and softball fields have been improved, the tennis courts relocated, the football stadium constructed, an auxiliary gym with a weight room and football locker room added, improvements made to locker rooms in the main gym and an athletic training room was created.

McReynolds has been a leader in state and national professional organizations, and he takes great pride in the school’s equal opportunity compliance.

17) Principal Kim McDaniel’s selection of Calvin Head as Russellville’s girls basketball coach and athletic director has received universal approval. He’s enthusiastic, eager and hard-working.

One observation: In the 46 years, I have been a sportswriter/sportscaster, Calvin is the first athletic director to hold a high school Media Day, giving us a chance to talk with players and coaches of the spring sports in one afternoon. It was a great idea!

18) RHS graduate Nakia Daniel returned to college basketball in style. While playing for fellow RHS graduate Coach Otis Key at Vol State Community College, she led the nation’s college players by hitting 50 of 87 attempts from 3-point range for 57.5 percent.

Daniel, who played at RHS for Coach Dedra Adler, is now considering her four-year college basketball options.

19) LCHS graduate Will McKenzie won the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference individual golf championship by three strokes, capping an excellent career at Brescia University. The school has offered him a full-time position after graduation. Whatever he does, his wonderfully outgoing personality will help him be a success.

20) A Hall of Fame induction ceremony turned into a family homecoming when the Russellville Alumni Association Athletic Hall of Fame added two members in January. They were Andre Morris, the star running back of the 1990 state champion football team who became a world class sprinter in college and as an adult, and Michael Morris, who was a rock solid senior leader on the Panthers’ 2000 Final Four basketball team and a member of a semi-pro basketball team coached by Otis Key which won the league championship.

Almost 100 friends and relatives assembled with them as they were inducted into the Hall. The extended family members were wearing “Morris Strong” tee shirts.

Additionally, Andre’s brother, former Panther running back Stacey Morris, got to see his young son, Teon William Todd "Big Hurt" Morris play in a national all-star football game in Texas. The Diamond vs Big League game was played in Texas on Monday, May 25 and was carried on national television.

The LoJo

*Biographical summaries of the eight inductees into the Cougar Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame follow:

Brenda Chapman Strickler won two regional tennis singles championships for Coach John McCarley at Olmstead High School in 1972 and ’73, played number one on WKU’s tennis team, switched to Coach Julia Yeater’s Lady Topper basketball team where she was the all-time leading scorer for several years, was MVP of a women’s professional basketball league, and is a member of the WKU Athletic Hall of Fame, All-Centennial Team, and All-Diddle Team.

Lillie Mason was named Miss Kentucky Basketball while playing for Coach Lugene Rogers at Olmstead High in 1981, was recruited to play for WKU by Coach Eileen Canty Coleman, led Coach Paul Sanderford’s Lady Toppers to two Final Fours while being named MVP of two NCAA regionals, was named All-American three times, was WKU’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder for many years, has her retired jersey hanging from the rafters of Diddle Arena, was named to the same WKU honor groups as Chapman-Strickler, and is being inducted into the Kentucky High School Hall of Fame this year.

Fred Tisdale led Coach Gerald Sinclair’s Cougars to the state championship in 1984, was named MVP of the state tournament, was runner-up for Mr. Kentucky Basketball, played for Eddie Ford’s Kentucky Nike HoopStars, became a starter for coaches Clem Haskins & Murray Arnold at WKU, played pro ball in South America, and was named one of the Top 50 Players in state tournament history.

Mark Thompson led Coach David Billingsley’s Cougars to the 1989 state baseball quarterfinals, was the University of Kentucky’s MVP as an All-SEC pitcher, was the second-ever draft pick of the Colorado Rockies, was the Rockies organization’s first MVP, set several milestone marks for the Rockies, pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals during the Mark McGwire home run streak, and later coached in the Rockies minor leagues.

Joseph Jefferson rushed for over 3,800 yards for Coach Les May’s Cougars, was named first-team all-state, was the MVP of the Kentucky-Tennessee all-star game, became a starter in Coach Jack Harbaugh’s secondary at WKU, set Hilltopper records as a return guy, played in the Senior Bowl and the Blue & Gray Game, was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft (still a WKU record), and became a starter for Coach Tony Dungy’s Colts.

Katherine Neely Murrie won the state golf tournament while playing for Coach Ethan Meguiar, was a three-time all-stater, won the NAIA national championship while playing for Lipscomb University, holds five Lady Bison records at Lipscomb, and is a former club golf professional at Belle Meade Country Club and the Golf Club of Tennessee.

Terry Clayton played in the Kentucky-Tennessee All-Star Game following an outstanding career playing for Coach Lee Proctor at LCHS, had his jersey retired by LCHS, played football of UK for four years, qualified for Iron Cat Weightlifting at UK for three years, and was the first national Rudy Award winner for the way he has handled hearing impairment while playing sports at a high level.

Lee Dockins has won five gold medals in the Special Olympics World Games, including Best All-Around, has won over 130 Gold Medals in Kentucky Summer Games, has performed gymnastics in China, Greece and Switzerland, has been on two national champion cheerleading squads, and will compete in her third World Games in Los Angeles this summer.

Bob Birdwhistell coached Lewisburg sports for 14 seasons and won 7 district championships in basketball and baseball combined, was the first athletic director at LCHS while five schools merged into one and oversaw the creation of football, golf, tennis and cross country teams, served as the school’s second principal and later was assistant principal at Chandlers Elementary School.

The LoJo

**A look at the last Logan boys team to win the district championship and the last time both Logan teams won in the same year:

The 1993 Cougars which were the last Logan boys team to win the district championship included some familiar names. One of them was Lonnie Mason, who coached this year’s champions. Also on the team was Josh Matthews, who became a college coach and also coached the highly regarded F-S squad which was upset in the district finals by the Lady Cougars in 2014. Other reserves included William Darden, the father of current RHS star athlete Coco Darden, and Trevor Christian, whose voice is heard often on bank ads on WRUS.

Key players included Craig Bailey, Montez Mason, Shon Dean, J.J. Sydnor, Tommy Jefferson and Patrick Robey.

The 1993 Cougars reached the regional finals, losing in overtime to Warren Central.

The 1988 sweep was not uncommon in the early days of LCHS. It was the sixth straight championship in the final year for Jim Thompson to coach the Lady Cougars. They were coming off a regional finalist season the year before.

Key players were Jalee Wright (Page), Tina Chyle (Owens), Pam Collins (Pollard), Christy Burton (Barnette) and sophomores Kim Johnson (Higgins), Shana Dean & Carrie Horlander. All but senior Chyle were part of Coach Mike Haynes’ first state quarterfinalist team the next year.

Four years following the program’s state championship, key members of Coach Barry Reed’s 1988 Cougar champions included seniors Tyrone Babb, Erick Hendricks, Joe Birdwhistell, Ernie Thomason & Jeff Pulley. Among the reserves were future bank president Brian White, future principal Grayson Wells and future big leaguer Mark Thompson.

Reed had coached the Cougars to the regional finals the year before, the third time in seven years he had coached in the regional finals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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