Whitesburg KY

Letcher County grade school football began in the ‘50s

In 1955-56 school years the Whitesburg Athletic Association became ambitious, deciding that Whitesburg High School would benefit even more if its future players started playing at early ages, a trend that was beginning to develop around the country particularly in large urban areas. Therefore a large sum of funds was raised to finance a grade school football team.

The team was to be composed of fifth- through eighth-grade players. There had never been a grade school football team in Letcher County before.

There, of course, had been grade school basketball teams in the county and surrounding areas for many years comprised of seventh and eighth graders, but the Athletic Association figured a fifth- and sixth-grade school basketball team should be added as well. There were funds raised to organize one of them at Whitesburg Grade School as well.

There was just one problem, who do they play?

The only other grade school football team in the entire area was Hazard. Ernie Trosper, the newly hired Whitesburg High School basketball team coach, was offered the extra job to coach the grade school football team, a job he accepted, and promptly convinced the Hazard Grade School officials to agree to a game.

Walter Enlow, the long time assistant football and basketball coach, was given the task of coaching the peewee basketball team.

I played on both teams as a starry-eyed10-year-old fifth grader.

There was no organized fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team in sight in the 1955-56 school year, so Enlow decided to pick who he thought was the weakest grade school team in the county (seventh and eighth graders) to play, and hope they wouldn’t beat us too badly!

The football team practiced in conjunction with the high school team, studying and emulating their drills, etc.

I remember one day during a rain, both teams retired to the clubhouse, and I remember Lloyd Hodge leaning against the wall, pointing to one of our grade school players in the clubhouse and saying to one of his teammates, “I asked that boy there what position he played, and he just said, ‘Line’”

They both laughed heartily.

The Hazard vs. Whitesburg Grade School game was scheduled to be played at the half time of the Whitesburg vs. Hazard High School game at Whitesburg. The fact that Hazard High School was coming in undefeated and highly ranked assured a good crowd to be on hand to watch the youngsters as well.

Then on the day of the game, we got the awful news that Hazard Grade School had called Coach Trosper and cancelled. No reason was given!

We were despondent to say the least, but Coach Trosper called a team meeting and said for us not to worry, that we would get our game, and to report to the gym at the scheduled time and be ready to play.

We dressed at the gym, and feeling like the old cliché, “All dressed up and no place to go,” when Coach Trosper came through with both arms full of the high school team’s basketball jerseys.

The Whitesburg basketball home jerseys were white with black numbers and trimmed in orange. The away jerseys were black with orange numbers and trimmed in orange. Trosper went down the line of players saying, “You’re white team, you’re black team,” and so on, and saying, “We’re going to play a black and white game!”

Or orange and black game, if you will.

My dad, who took the team photo, also filmed the game in 16mm, which would be worth a fortune today, had it survived.

I don’t remember too many details about the game. I don’t remember which team I was on or which team won, but Gene Autry Adams threw a pass to someone to win for his side, 6-0.

I remember I was clearly recognizable in one scene in the movie when I removed my helmet. I remember when we slid the basketball jerseys over our plain, white jerseys, how much we looked like we had real football jerseys with real numbers. But what I remember most is the tremendous ovation the partisan crowd gave us as we left the field!

To make it an even sweeter night, as an encore the Whitesburg High School team leveled the high-flying Bulldogs 40- 12 en route to becoming runners-up in the EKMC (Eastern Kentucky Mountain Conference) behind champion Pikeville, a team that Whitesburg did not play that season!

This fledging little team, nevertheless, helped to produce many future Whitesburg High School outstanding players, particularly of the EKMC runners-up of 1959-60 and 1962-63 both behind champion Hazard.

Among the players in a photo, I’m the only one to have the privilege of playing all the way through on both teams in my freshman and senior seasons. My friend and teammate, Ricky Fields, would have too, except an injury cut his freshman season short.

From the ’59 team were Bobby Ray Breeding, Wayne Barker, Kenneth Hall, Carter Bert Bradshaw, Bennie Jones, Billy Wayne ‘Roe’ Wright and Roger Kincer.

Roger Kincer, in ’59, led the entire state of Kentucky in scoring with 214 points.

Dudley Webb, a junior that season, also began the season with this team, but had his season cut short by injury as well.

From the ’62 season are, Billy Wayne, Roe Wright and Rickey Fields.

Then the basketball season of 1955-56. Walter Enlow was a very good coach. Our uniforms, bought by the Whitesburg Athletic Association, were patterned exactly after the Whitesburg High School’s away uniforms. Unlike our dull tan and white football uniforms, the basketball uniforms were a beautiful, sharp black with bright orange numbers and trimming, and tapered to fit little fellows!

When I first got my uniform, I took it home and laid it on the bed and looked at it, and admired it for hours at a time.

When the game was played against the Eolia Grade School of seventh and eighth graders, they looked like grown men to us. The game was played during school hours, and a few were allowed to attend from the grade school and a few curious high school students.

The game was a disaster from beginning to end, as they beat us 47-2. I got my only box score statistic in this game, although I didn’t know what it was called for years. It’s called a ‘defensive rebound’!

The only thing that saved us from the embarrassment of a shutout was when my friend and future football teammate, Newt Sexton, got a rebound under our goal, but was trapped and covered up by Green and White of Eolia, fell to his knees and in desperation, threw the ball wildly up in the air over the back of his head, just hoping one of his teammates would get it, but they didn’t.

Instead, it somehow went through the goal.

People asked me for weeks who scored the two points, and I said Newt Sexton, but nobody knew him. Finally I got irritated.

Newt’s big brother was Basil Sexton, a very popular senior football and basketball player on the Whitesburg High School’s team, so when everyone kept asking me who scored the two points I would say, “Basil Sexton’s little brother, Newt.”

Suddenly everybody knew him, and I made a celebrity out of Newt for a week or so.

Well the grade school football team was dormant for the next season of 1956- 57, but then was revived the next year, 1957-58, and continued to evolve until the Letcher County high schools were consolidated in 2005.

The peewee basketball team was abolished after the one season. I never knew what happened to those pretty uniforms!

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