Sweet 16 Is The Biggest Show On Earth

Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus claims to be the Greatest Show on Earth.

I am among the greatest of the circus’ fans because it is among the few things that have lived up to their billing.

But there is one other show that I have enjoyed more since 1946 – when I got to see Bobby Laughlin’s Breckinridge Training Eaglets win the State Tournament Championship at the Jefferson County Armory in Louisville.

Breck Training was the teacher training high school for Morehead College, now Morehead State University.

Western, Murray, Eastern and UK also had such high schools. In fact, Western’s College High was also in the Sweet 16 in 1946.

As you know, the boys’ tournament ended last Sunday at Rupp Arena and the girls are playing this week at WKU’s Diddle Arena.

Boys’ teams started playing for the state title in 1918 and girls started playing for the state title in 1920 and did so until 1975.

Boys’ teams have competed for state titles every  year since, but girls were not permitted to have a tournament  from 1932 until 1975. Why? I have heard various reasons. It took Title IX and Bunny Daugherty, a feisty coach and director of athletics at Louisville’s Sacred Heart Academy, to restore the right for girls to sweat for a state title in 1975.

Many high school fans of the Sweet 16 surface when the Sweet 16 rolls around and I try to answer their questions with facts or opinions.

For instance:

Best coaches who have guided their teams to state championships:

Lafayette’s Ralph Carlisle, Clark County’s Letcher Norton, Harlan’s Joe Gilley, Male High’s Paul Jenkins, Maysville’s Earle Jones, Hindman’s Pearl Combs, Carr Creek’s Morton Combs, St. Xavier’s Bob Schuhmann and Gene Rhodes, Inez’s Russ Williamson, Brewers’ McCoy Tarry, Owensboro’s Lawrence McGinnis, Cuba’s Jack Story, Hazard’s Goebel Ritter, Pleasure Ridge Park’s Dale Mabrey, Ballard’s Scott Davenport, Clay County’s Bob Keith, Ashland’s Bob Wright, Seneca’s Bob Mulcahy, Shelby Country’s Bill Harrell, Male’s Jim Huter, Edmonson County’s Bo Davenport, Lafayette’s  Jock Sutherland and Fairdale’s Stan Hardin.

There are many other great coaches. I am sure you can add other deserving men.

Wah and Beard

Many, many players went on to greatness.

For instance, Harlan’s Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones is Kentucky’s most decorated athlete. All-State in football and basketball, Olympic Gold Medal winner, All-Southeastern Conference in football, basketball and baseball (and an SEC Legend in all three sports).

Male High’s Ralph Beard matched Wah in just about every sport. He was starting running back as a freshman at UK, four-time All-American and Olympic Gold Medal winner in basketball.

Big as Wah Wah!

The late Jack Fultz of Olive Hill told an interesting story about Wah Wah Jones.

“We kept hearing about that big giant in Harlan. When Wah and I prepared to jump center, I looked at him and I was as tall as he was!”

Harlan beat Olive Hill 29-26 in the Sweet 16 semifinals and went on to win the championship by beating Dayton 29-26 in the final.

Olive Hill’s Lonnie Howerton made All-Tournament along with Wah and Ralph Beard.

Howerton was recruited  to UK by Adolph Rupp. Some of his pre-med classes were scheduled at the same time as basketball practice so he transferred to the University of Louisville Medical School and was a renowned surgeon in Louisville, where he still lives.

Sweet 16 programs!

The boys’ Sweet 16 Tournament did not have programs for the first time in history. The boys’ tournament supports all other sports and nothing – NOTHING! – should come before the boys’ tournament.

Oscar Combs (old money bags) has volunteered to head a drive to see that the Boys’ State Tournament never again has to go without programs.

And if Lexington won’t help, I’m sure I could help with Louisville donors.

  • Ralphie

    Pretty sure Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, Darrell Griffith and Jerry Eaves played in the Sweet 16. But Earl only recognizes the blue. Louisville newspaper, Earl, not Irvine.