Once upon a time—when weather-beaten basketballs rattled rickety rims on dirt courts across Kentucky—it was not unusual to hear young boys yell out the name King Kelly Coleman or that of some other high school basketball star when they made a spectacular shot.
Coleman once scored 75 points and grabbed 41 rebounds for his team, the Wayland Wasps of Floyd County, in a game against an archrival during the 1950s.
Farther west, in Muhlenberg County, the name Raymond “Corky” Withrow echoed off many backboards for miles around Central City High School, where Withrow’s amazing talents became the stuff of legend, and where the original gym in which he played is now a museum.
If you grew up in Kentucky during basketball’s golden age of the late 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, you could fill the remaining lines of this story with memories of your own heroes—Freddie Maggard of Carr Creek, Howie Crittenden and Charles “Doodle” Floyd from Cuba, Kentucky, Mason Cope (1949 Converse National Player of the Year) of Brewers, Taylor County’s Clem Haskins, Adrian Smith of Farmington, Owensboro’s Cliff Hagan and Bobby Rascoe, Frank Ramsey of Madisonville, Jim McDaniels, Scottsville, Butch Beard from Breckinridge County, Wes Unseld with Louisville’s Seneca High School, and on and on.
In 2006, Charles Thurman of Sonora and his longtime friend and fellow history buff Sherrill Williams of Vine Grove read Gary West’s book King Kelly Coleman—Kentucky’s Greatest Basketball Legend, and were so moved by the story and the boyhood memories it evoked that they asked West to introduce them to the reclusive Coleman.
When they learned that Coleman and his friend Jerry Fultz were trying to create a Mountain Sports Hall of Fame at the old Wayland gym where Coleman played, Thurman and Williams, with help from West, organized a fund-raising dinner at Claudia’s Tea Room and the Thurman-Phillips Guest Home, which Thurman and his wife, Claudia, operate in Sonora. Many of the state’s notable players from yesteryear were invited.
Later, for the first time since the 1956 state high school basketball tournament, Coleman and Withrow met again, this time in Wayland, along with Freddie Maggard, who had hit the winning shot against both of their teams to lead Carr Creek to the title that year.
To make a long story much too short, Thurman and Williams, with help from West and many others across the Commonwealth, have now visited and interviewed on video dozens of legendary Kentucky stars who are still around to tell their stories.
The interviews with former players continue, while in Wayland (population around 450) Coleman and Fultz are still working to create the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame and museum in hopes of preserving much of eastern Kentucky’s sports history where many sports legends were born.
For more information about the video project, e-mail Charles Thurman at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame or make a tax-deductible donation, call Wayland’s Mayor Jerry Fultz at (606) 358-9471.