Friday, the inaugural class TCHS Athletic Hall of Fame was introduced to a crowd at Wildcat Gym in the middle of a girl-boy doubleheader sweep of longtime rival Caldwell County.
All of the living members of the class – Al Baker, Joe Graham, Karen Johnson, Eddie Radford, George Radford, Jim Wallace and Willie Wilson – were present, while those that have passed on were represented by family members – Millard Griffin, by his nephew J.D. Howell; Paul Perdue, by his son Gary; and David Sadler, by his daughters Katie, Suzanna and Victoria.
The first Hall of Fame Banquet was held Saturday at the TCHS Cafeteria. Each of the inductees was introduced by Mike Wright, TCHS cross country and boys basketball coach and Hall of Fame Committee chairman. Sadler was also given an introduction by Buddy Perry, former TCHS teacher and football coach.
Twenty-six years after his TCHS graduation, Al Baker’s exploits are still among the most impressive in Kentucky. His 5,396 rushing yards are still the most in TCHS history and 24th-best in the state, and his Class A state championship performance of 10.7 seconds in the 100-meter dash is still a state record.
Baker, currently the director of cultural diversity at Ashland Community and Technical College, addressed TCHS athletics supporters for the second time in the last five months. He also spoke at the TCHS Century Club dinner in September. Saturday, he reiterated part of his message from his earlier speech – “It takes a village to raise a kid.”
Baker also gave credit to former Wildcat football head coach Dixie Jones, who was in attendance Saturday, for “seeing the talent I had and turning it into nothing but success.” He also mentioned having thoughts about ending his University of Kentucky career early, but a letter he received from fellow inductee Willie Wilson made him change his mind.
“He said everyone was behind me 100 percent, Trigg County all the way,” Baker said. “So I didn’t give up.”
After stellar basketball and football careers at TCHS, Joe Graham took his gridiron talents to Vanderbilt University, where he became an All-Southeastern Conference offensive guard. He was later awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal and Defender of Freedom Award.
Graham opened his speech by noting how impressed he was by the energy of the current Wildcats and Lady ‘Cats shown during their Friday sweep of Caldwell County.
“They have an obvious love of sports, and I believe high school athletics is the crucible of loving sports for sports’ sake,” Graham said. “College and pro athletes lose that essence sometimes. We learn important things like sportsmanship through high school athletics, but the most important thing we learn is how to deal with adversity. You can’t quit in the middle of a game, just like you can’t quit in the middle of life.”
Graham, who currently lives in Gainsville, Va., has been an executive director of the National Rifle Association for 11 years.
For nearly 40 years, Millard Griffin served as Trigg football and basketball’s official bus driver and basketball scorekeeper and unofficial assistant coach and “team psychologist,” Wright said. His contributions to TCHS sports led Wright to create the Millard Griffin Sixth Man Award over 20 years ago.
Griffin passed away in 1995. He was represented Saturday by his nephew, J.D. Howell.
“On behalf of the Millard Griffin family, we thank you for this honor,” Howell said. “We thought a lot of him, and he had a great compassion for Trigg County sports. He dedicated a big portion of his life to this effort.”
Howell perhaps best described Griffin’s loyalty to the Black and White with the story of a close 1960 Trigg win against Guthrie, during which Griffin was scorekeeper. The day after the game, Griffin, Howell said, was visited by Guthrie’s coach and principal, who said they found extra points on their scorebook that indicated Guthrie had actually won the game.
“Griff said, ‘I’m the official scorekeeper in Cadiz, been doing it for several years now,’” Howell said. “‘When the game is over, we add up the totals, write them down, I sign it off, shut the book, and it’s over. We won, you lost, go back to Guthrie.’”
When few people had interest in watching girls play basketball, Karen Johnson made Lady Wildcat games must-see. Johnson joined the varsity team in middle school and had joined the starting lineup by eighth grade. She still holds several individual Lady ‘Cat records, including points (2,140).
“I remember when I was a little girl, my dad put a goal on an electric pole, and that’s how I learned to play basketball,” Johnson said. “I played with the neighborhood boys, which was competitive for a little girl.”
Johnson said she had a wonderful career and that the 1980 5th District Championship capped it off well.
“But of all the memories I have, it’s the things I wasn’t best at that I remember most,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t the best teammate, I wasn’t the best leader on and off the court. I almost feel unworthy to be in the presence of some of the people here.”
Johnson currently lives in Elizabethtown and is employed as a civilian with the United States Army at Fort Knox.
For those who don’t know, Perdue Field is named in honor of Trigg’s first football and boys basketball coach, Paul Perdue. His contributions to TCHS athletics are less notable in his team’s statistics as those made in the effort to begin those programs in 1937 and 1938 and keep them alive when the high school burned in 1960.
Perdue is survived by three children, and his son Gary represented him Saturday.
“I want to thank everyone involved in this effort, on behalf of our family, for keeping my father’s legacy alive,” Perdue said. “It’s not lost on me that we’ve had some other pretty good football coaches come through here.”
Perdue said his dad passed away shortly after he turned four years old, so much of his knowledge of him comes from stories told by others.
“I heard Millard Griffin tell many a story about my dad,” Perdue said. “My dad was old school. They called him ‘Cricket.’ Supposedly, it had more to do with his size, but I figure it’s because he would not shut up and was probably pretty loud, and I probably got that from him.”
During his statement at Saturday’s banquet, Eddie Radford thanked his former basketball coach, Jim Wallace, for “always giving me the green light.” A quick glance at his career stats reveal that he earned his coach’s faith. He did the same as a running back for the football team, as well.
Radford, who chose Jacksonville State University to continue his football career in 1970, currently lives in Cadiz.
He thanked those he called “the trailblazers” for paving the way for his success at TCHS.
“I also want to thank my teammates, and football coach Kenny Barrett, and my main man, coach Jim Wallace,” Radford said. “They stood behind me, psyched me out a lot, and had faith and trust. To Coach Wallace, thank you for giving me the green light to shoot.”
George Radford starred in three sports at TCHS from 1964-67 and, after playing basketball and football at Murray State University, returned to Cadiz to coach Wildcat and Lady ‘Cat teams. He is perhaps the most decorated Trigg coach in history, having led Trigg to five team and 21 individual state track championships and the 1982 girls cross country title.
Radford thanked several people, particularly his wife of nearly 42 years for, as he said, “putting up with me.”
“Thanks to my mom and dad for getting me started on this journey,” Radford said. “And a special thanks to Jim Wallace, who has been a mentor and a friend. It was Jim Wallace and my mother who took me to Murray State University to White Hall, left me there and said, ‘Don’t come home until you get a degree.’”
Radford is a partner/owner of GFB Company and lives in Cadiz.
Per the words of Buddy Perry, David Sadler’s height, weight and athletic ability could be measured, but not his heart. Sadler, smaller than the typical SEC lineman of the 1970s, worked his way to two All-State selections and the Lexington Herald-Leader’s outstanding offensive lineman honor in 1973, and later to a sholarship to play for Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama.
“Sometimes, a person just stands out, and you know from the beginning that he’s a special young man,” Perry said of Sadler. “There was an aura around him. He was one of the toughest young men and the best football player I ever coached. He loved to play the game, but more than that, he loved his family.”
Sadler, who passed away in 2009, was represented Saturday by his wife, Lynda, and three daughters, Katie, Suzanna and Victoria.
Jim Wallace has the longest tenure of the 2011 inductees, having been involved as a player, coach, administrator and volunteer at TCHS for over 50 years. He coached the Wildcat basketball team to the state semifinals in 1970 and was named to the Kentucky Track and Cross Country Association Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Kentucky Basketball Coaches Association Court of Honor in 2009.
“We were fortunate to have some great kids,” Wallace said. “The 1960s were pretty tough. The civil rights movement was full blown, Vietnam was going crazy, there was a lot of turmoil. But we had great kids, parents and leaders in the school, and we weathered the storm pretty well. I give athletics a lot of credit for that.”
Jim is now retired and living in Cadiz.
For 20 years, “Uncle” Willie Wilson was the “Voice of the Trigg County Wildcats” on WKDZ Radio, the first person to hold such a title. His voice was heard telling the story of nearly 1,000 Trigg football and basketball games, including the 1970 trip to the boys basketball state semifinals and the 1971 and ‘72 state football championships.
“My wife always used to talk about me being the first one to the game and the last one to leave,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who lives in Cadiz, is still involved in radio in sales and commercial production.
“To even be considered for membership in such an elite group is humbling,” Wilson said. “It’s an opportunity I’ll always remember, just as I’ll recall lifetime friendships made. Thanks to Eldridge Rogers, Mike Wright and all the committee members for having this idea and the courage to carry it out.”