Kentucky Sports

Arthur MillerAugust 6, 1861, Arthur McQuiston Miller UK’s 1st football coach was born. In 1892, he joined the faculty at Kentucky State College (now the University of Kentucky) as a professor of geology and zoology. That year, he coached the football team in its inaugural season at the urging of the students, which came despite his limited knowledge of the sport. Kentucky finished with a 2–4–1 record and Miller allowed John A. Thompson, who was more familiar with the game, to coach the team the following season. By 1907, Miller was the head of the geological, zoological, and entomological departments at Kentucky. From 1908 to 1917, he served as the school’s first dean of arts and sciences. In June 1925, Miller was informed that he could be called upon to testify in defense of John T. Scopes, a University of Kentucky alumnus and former student of Miller’s, during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Miller Hall on the University of Kentucky campus was named in his honor in 1940.

1876_Louisville_GraysJuly 19, 1865, Louisville, KY hosted the first baseball game played west of the Alleghenies played under standard rules. The Louisville Grays hosted and defeated the Nashville Cumberlands. When Louisville businessman Walter Haldeman and others formed the National League in 1876, this Louisville club was a charter member. The Grays finished fifth in 1876 and in 1877 led the league in the final weeks of the season, losing to the Boston Red Caps in the final game. It was later discovered that gamblers had paid four Louisville players to lose games in 1877 so that Boston would win the championship. Baseball’s first major scandal led to the demise of the Grays, and the four team members were banned from playing professional baseball for life. Kentucky has not been represented by a major league team since.

redmile2September 28, 1875, the Red Mile ran their first race named the Lexington Stakes and a small crowd witnessed Odd Fellow cross the finish line first. Today, it hosts one of the legs of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters, the annual Kentucky Futurity. The track is the second-oldest harness racing track in the world and the oldest horse racing track in Lexington. This historical track is one mile long and made of red clay.

April 9, 1880, the first organized football game played in Kentucky was played when Kentucky University (now Transylvania University) beat Centre College 13 ¾ – 0 in a cow pasture. There were fifteen players on each team and when a player was injured and removed, he could not re-enter the game. Football games were continued to be played in the pasture and eventually concrete stands were added in 1916 creating UK’s first football stadium, Stoll Field.

Pete_browning_cigarette_cardMay 2, 1882, Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning, made his Major League Baseball debut for the Louisville Eclipse. A genuine pre-modern national star, one of the major league game’s pioneers, and one of the sport’s most enduring and intriguing figures, Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning was a lifelong residence of Louisville. A skilled marbles player and name figure skater, Browning was a talented baseball player from the start. He was one of the sport’s most accomplished batters of the 1880s. A three-time batting champion, he finished among the top three hitters in the league in each of his first seven years. Twice in the decade, he hit for the cycle in 1886, and again in 1889. He also led the league in hits, total bases and on-base percentage in 1885.  Nicknamed the “Louisville Slugger”, he was enormously attentive to the bats he used, and was the first player to have them custom-made, establishing a practice among hitters which continues to the present. Pete’s 44 year life spanned from 1861 – 1905.

January 15, 1891, Raymond Johnson Chapman was born in Beaver Dam, KY. Mr. Chapman was a professional baseball player spending his entire career as a shortstop for Cleveland. Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, and died 12 hours later on August 17, 1920. He remains the only Major League Baseball player to have died from an injury received at a major league baseball game.  Video

February 18, 1903, the University of Kentucky basketball team recorded its first victory against the Lexington YMCA. The final score was 11-10. 

July 23, 1918, Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was born on a small farm in Meade County between Ekron and Brandenburg. When he was a child, the family moved to Louisville, where he got his nickname; not because of his size but because of his prowess at marbles. One year he was the runner-up to the national champion in Louisville’s Courier-Journal marble tournament. His 16 year tenure with the LA Dodgers included 7 NL titles.  He led the NL in; stolen bases in 1952, double plays 4 times in 42’ and 46’-48’, fielding average in 49’. He was named to the All-Star Team eight times (1947-54) and he played in 7 World Series. Reese was the team’s captain, and Dodger sportscaster Red Barber described him as the glue that kept his team together. Reese, instrumental in smoothing Jackie Robinson’s entrance into baseball, was called “the catalyst of baseball integration,” by author Roger Kahn. He was elected into the Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1984.  Pictured is Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese in the locker room after Game 1 of the 52 World Series. Both hit home runs, helping the Dodgers win. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Ray ChapmanAugust 17, 1920, Raymond Johnson Chapman from Beaver Dam passed away after being hit by a pitch while batting in a major league game. He remains the only player to die from an injury received during a MLB game. The game was held during a dark, rainy, afternoon, at the Yankee’s Polo Grounds, visiting was the Cleveland Indians. In the first pitch of the fifth inning, a loud crack was heard and the ball trickled toward the mound. The Yankee pitcher quickly fielded it, tossing it to first for what he thought was the first out of the inning. But Chapman had sunk to a knee in the batter’s box, his eyes closed and his mouth open. He was carried off the field and died 12 hours later after surgery. Married before the start of the season to Kathleen Daly who was pregnant, he had hinted this would be his last season. The Indians, won the game and the World Series later that year. 

October 4, 1924, Male High’s football team was in Chicago to play that city’s Austin High School in the first football game held in a brand new lakefront sports facility named Grant Park Municipal Stadium.  Male defeated Austin by a score of 26-0.  A little over a year later, Grant Park Municipal Stadium was renamed Soldier Field. 

November 30, 1928, coach Joe B. Hall was born in Cynthiana, KY. Coach Hall won Kentucky’s 5th National Championship beating Duke 94-88.

Gay_BrewerMarch 19, 1932, Gay Robert Brewer, Jr., was born. His family lived next to the Ashland Golf Club in Lexington, where he worked as a caddy. By the time Brewer played golf at Lafayette High School in 1947, he had developed an exceptional game. He won three straight high school championships, a state record, in 1949, 1950, and 1951. In 1949, he also won the U.S. Junior Amateur, the most prestigious amateur event for golfers under the age of eighteen. In 1952, he won the Southern Amateur. Gay attended UK on a football scholarship for two years where coach Bear Bryant used him in practice as a holder for field goals and extra points. Brewer turned professional in 1956. In 1965, he won the Hawaiian Open. At the 1966 Masters Tournament, he bogeyed the final hole to finish in a three-way tie for the lead after regulation play but ended up finishing third to Jack Nicklaus following an 18-hole playoff. He came back the next year and won it, scoring a one stroke victory over lifelong friend Bobby Nichols in the first live television broadcast of a golf tournament from the United States to Europe. Brewer called winning the 1967 Masters “the biggest thrill I’ve had in golf.” He went on to become a member of the 1967 Ryder Cup winning team. That same year at the Pensacola Open, he set a PGA Tour record for the best 54-hole total on a par-72 course. His score of 25-under par 191 is a record that still stands over forty years later. In his career, he won more than ten PGA events.

September 30, 1933, the newly formed SEC played their first football game in Lexington, KY at Stoll Field/McLean Stadium. The University of Kentucky beat the Sewanee Purple Tigers 7-0.

October 5, 1936, Adrian Howard “Odie” Smith was born in Farmington, KY. His family lived in a farmhouse that had no electricity and no indoor plumbing. He was nicknamed “Odie” after a comedian on the Grand Ole Opry. As a child, he attended a three-room schoolhouse in rural Graves County, Kentucky. Because the family didn’t have money for a basketball, he learned to shoot one his mother made from rolling up his dad’s socks. He attended Farmington High School, where he nearly didn’t play high school basketball until the school’s principal/basketball coach agreed to give him a ride home (a distance of seven miles) after practices. From these humble beginnings, Odie went on to win a NCAA Championship under Rupp in 1958 and a Gold Medal in 1960 in Rome, Italy.

January 17, 1942, Muhammad Ali [Cassius Clay], “The Greatest,” who is the only three-time heavyweight champion was born in Louisville.

March 23, 1948, Adolph Rupp coached the University of Kentucky basketball team to its first NCAA Championship by beating Baylor University 58-42 in New York City.  Eight teams participated in the tournament and Wildcat Alex Groza was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Video

January 1, 1951, the Kentucky Wildcats, led by Coach Bear Bryant, beat the Oklahoma Sooners 13-7 in the 17th Sugar Bowl, considered one of the biggest upsets in college football. The game pitted Big Seven champion Oklahoma (ranked #1 in the Associated Press poll) against the Southeastern Conference champion Kentucky (ranked #7). Oklahoma’s regular season record was 10-0; Kentucky’s was 10-1. Oklahoma averaged 34.5 points per game and entered the game with a 31-game winning streak. Only one team had scored more than twice in a game against Kentucky that season. Walt Yowarsky was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. His position was defensive tackle and recovered a fumble on the Oklahoma 22-yard line, leading to Kentucky’s first score: for a 7-0 Kentucky lead at the end of the first quarter. He had played less than 5 minutes on defense during the regular season. Picture

bear-bryantFebruary 4, 1954, Paul William “Bear” Bryant resigned as the head football coach at the University of Kentucky after signing a twelve year contract a month earlier. He attributed his decision to the highly competitive nature between himself and Coach Rupp, both men wanted top billing for their program. When Bryant signed his new contract, he believed that Rupp would soon retire. When Rupp signed a ten year extension, Bryant resigned.  Coach Bryant enjoyed an impressive 60-23-5 record while coaching the Wildcats, including 3-1 in bowl games. (Great Lakes ’48, Orange ’50, Sugar ’51 and Cotton ’52)  (AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr.)

David HayesJuly 9, 1955, David L. Hayes from Leitchfield, KY caught an all tackle WORLD RECORD 11lbs., 15ozs., smallmouth bass in Dale Hallow Lake, Phillip’s Bend area, with his pearl-colored Bomber 600 lure. The 27-inch long smallmouth bass was reeled in from the Kentucky side of the lake. To commemorate this legendary catch, the auxiliary boat ramp at Dale Hollow State Resort Park Marina was recently renamed the David L. Hayes Boat Ramp. The sign marking the ramp includes a life-sized image of the record fish. 

February 27, 1956, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed Senate Resolution 70, establishing the spotted bass as Kentucky’s state gamefish. Soon afterwards, the legislation was signed into law by Governor Chandler. From that date, the spotted bass became known as the Kentucky bass, a common name that is widely accepted in Kentucky. The spotted bass was chosen as the state gamefish because of its abundance in the Ohio River, and tributaries to the south, many of which arise or flow through the Bluegrass State. Populations of spotted bass are found in most of Kentucky’s major rivers, but ichthyologists didn’t recognize that the spotted bass was a separate species from the largemouth bass until 1927. In Kentucky, adult spotted bass are commonly 8 to 15 inches in length, weighing 8 ounces to 2 pounds.

June 6, 1956, Esker Carroll caught a Kentucky state record 97 pound flathead catfish in the Green River. 

August 8, 1956, Kelsie Travis, Jr. from Paducah caught a 40lb Longnose Gar in the Ohio River. 40 lbs is the Kentucky State Record. The Longnose Gar is an Ancient Fish species.

March 22, 1958, the University of Kentucky basketball team won its 4th NCAA Tournament beating Seattle 84-72.  Temple and Kansas St. completed the final four. The tournament involved 24 schools and the finals were held in Louisville.  The Wildcats were coached by Adolph Rupp.

September 5, 1960, Muhammad Ali won his Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal in Rome. Despite being only 18, he won all four of his fights easily. In the final he defeated, in a unanimous decision, three-time European champion, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. Ali, then named Cassius Clay, cherished his gold medal from the 1960 Olympics so much that he wore it all the time, even while sleeping. The Ali/Gold medal story is of great mystery to this day. Some say he lost it but Ali and his brother tell another story. One day, sickened by a horrific bout of racism he encountered that evening, the 18-year-old champion stood on the Second Street Bridge and threw the medal into the Ohio River.

October 29, 1960, Muhammad Ali makes his professional debut in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, winning a six-round unanimous decision over Tunney Hunsaker, whose day job was police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia.

March 22, 1967, after eight successful title defenses, including another win over Liston and one over former champ Floyd Patterson, Ali knocks out Zora Folley in the seventh round in Madison Square Garden. It was his last fight before losing his titles and facing prison for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army.

April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title: World Heavyweight Champion. He refused his army induction notice for religious reasons and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $10,000. He served no time but was barred from his livelihood.  “Smokin” Joe Frazier was awarded the title and thus started one of sports’ greatest feuds. Three years later Ali received a license to fight again.  

June 13, 1970, A.E. Sellers of Louisville, KY., set a state fishing record by catching a 7 lbs., 10 ozs. Kentucky Bass. The Kentucky Bass also known as a Spotted Bass is the Kentucky State Fish. In Kentucky, adult spotted bass are commonly 8 to 15 inches in length, weighing 8 ounces to 2 pounds. Mr. Sellers caught the bass in a farm pond. It’s believed that the fish was trapped in the pond by receding flood waters, where it grew to such enormous size.*


July 31, 1977, Timothy Scott Couch was born in Hyden. As the Leslie County high school quarterback he set a number of national high school records — most pass completions (872), passing yardage (12,104), touchdown passes (132), and passing percentage for a season (75.1). Following his senior 1995 season, he was recognized as Kentucky’s Mr. Football. As the UK quarterback, Couch still holds the NCAA record for completion percentage in one game (minimum of 40 completions) at 83.0% vs. Vanderbilt (44 of 53) in 1998 and for completions per game (36.4, 400 in 11 games) that same season. He also left Kentucky holding NCAA records for most completions in a season (400 in 1998), most completions in a two-year period (793 in 1997-1998), most completions per game in a two-year period (34.7, 1997–1998) and career completion percentage (67.1%). Couch was the 1998 SEC Player Of The Year and in 1999 he was the number 1 overall pick in the NFL draft


February 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali, 36, loses his Heavyweight title by split decision after 15 rounds to Leon Spinks. The 25 year old pulled off one of the great upsets in boxing after only seven professional fights and a Gold Medal. Ali had beaten all the other Olympic gold medalists of his era, and he expected to easily defeat Spinks. But Ali trained very little for the fight, and as usual, lay on the ropes as Spinks built a lead. For the first time, however, Ali could not come back and lost a split decision in Vegas. 

March 27, 1978, Joe B. Hall led the Kentucky Wildcats over Duke to win their 5th National Championship in St. Louis, MO. Those who witnessed it call Jack Givens’ 41 point game, one of the finest performances in the college basketball history. The Cats went 30-2 for the season and won the SEC Tournament.muhammad-ali-fights-leon-spinks

September 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali still 36 gets the heavyweight title back by beating Leon Spinks in a 15-round unanimous decision, making him the first man to reign as champion three times. He then retires for the first of two times.

Darrell Griffith, "Dr. Dunkenstein"
March 24, 1980, the Louisville Cardinals won their first NCAA national championship with a 59–54 victory over the UCLA Bruins at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. The team completed its a 33-3 season coached by Denny Crum and led by Darrell Griffith, aka “Dr. Dunkenstein,” the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Coach Larry Brown and Kiki Vandeweghe gave a valiant effort. The Bruins would later forfeit their season’s standings after players representing the school were declared ineligible by the NCAA.  Structurally speaking, this was the first tournament of the modern era.  For the first time: 1) an unlimited number of at-large teams could come from any conference. 2) the bracket was seeded to make each region as evenly competitive as possible. Previously, geographic considerations had trumped this. 3) All teams were seeded solely based on the subjective judgment of the committee.

October 2, 1980, Muhammad Ali, at the age of 38 attempts a comeback in a title fight against Larry Holmes, a former Ali sparring partner, but his skills are clearly eroded. Ali’s trainer stops the fight after 10 rounds, marking the only time in his career that Ali lost by anything other than a decision.

April 14, 1984, Dale Wilson of London, Kentucky set a Kentucky record by catching a Largemouth Bass that weighed 13 lbs; 10.4 ozs. He caught it in Wood Creek Lake in Laurel County. *

August 12, 1984, Pee Wee Reese, from Ekron, KY, was inducted in Baseball’s Hall Of Fame.  His primary team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing shortstop.  His most important action on a baseball field may have been prior to a game. In 1947, the Dodgers were visiting Cincinnati, and the fans and opposing players were getting on rookie Jackie Robinson. Reese calmly walked over to Robinson, put his arm around his teammate’s shoulder, and chatted. The gesture is remembered as an important moment in both Robinson’s career and the acceptance of African Americans in baseball—and American society. Earlier, Reese had refused to sign a petition circulating among Dodger teammates concerning Robinson’s participation on the team. Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson, said, “I thought it was a very supportive gesture, and very instinctive on Pee Wee’s part. You shouldn’t forget that Pee Wee was the captain, and he led the way. Pee Wee was more than a friend. Pee Wee was a good man.”

Phil SimmsJanuary 25, 1987, Phil Simms from Springfield won his first Super Bowl. NY Giants defeated Denver in Super Bowl XXI 39-20. In the biggest game of his life, Simms had one of the finest performances in Super Bowl history. He completed 22 of 25 passes (2 drops) for 268 yards, setting Super Bowl records for consecutive completions (10), accuracy (88%) and passer rating (150.9). In addition, he threw three touchdown passes and his passer rating set an NFL postseason record. “This might be the best game a quarterback has ever played,” Giants coach Bill Parcells later said. Two of the most famous plays from the game were the flea flicker to McConkey, and the touchdown pass caught by McConkey off of the fingertips of Giants tight end, Mark Bavaro. Simms was named MVP of Super Bowl XXI. He is credited for being the first to use the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” following a championship victory. See the commercial here

jim-bunningAugust 4, 1996, James Paul David Bunning, from Southgate, KY, was elected in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Jim Bunning, Bill Foster, Ned Hanlon and Earl Weaver made up the 58th induction class in Hall of Fame history. Jim Bunning was a tough right-handed sidearm pitcher during his 17-year big league career, but consistency was what he craved, once stating, “I am most proud of the fact I went through nearly 11 years without missing a start. They wrote my name down, and I went to the post.” Bunning won 224 games, an eight-time All-Star, one 20-win season, but would win 19 games four times and one perfect game. Besides throwing no-hitters in the American and National leagues, Bunning was also the second pitcher, behind Hall of Famer Cy Young, to win 100 games and collect 1,000 strikeouts in both circuits. When Bunning retired, he was second on the all-time strikeouts list to Walter Johnson with 2,855.

March 30, 1998, the Kentucky Wildcats win their 7th NCAA National Championship in the Alamodome. The Cats beat S.C. State, St. Louis, UCLA, Duke, Stanford (OT) and then defeated the Utah Utes 78-69. Jeff Sheppard of Kentucky was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Kentucky came back from double-digit deficits in each of its last three games in the tournament, including a 17-point second half comeback against the Duke Blue Devils, leading to the school’s fans dubbing the team the “Comeback Cats.”

August 28, 1999
Bruce W. Midkiff from Owensboro caught a world record 104 pound Blue Catfish.  He caught in the Ohio River near Cannelton Dam Tailwaters. This Blue catfish was caught on a live skipjack and it beat the previous state record set the same day below the same dam. The day he caught the record fish he took it to the Game Warden station in McLean Co. to get it officially weighed. They told him to put on hats and shirts with tackle manufactures on it and they would pay him for the advertising rights, and might display the fish in a tanks at different stores. He declined all offers and released the fish at the Owensboro boat ramp.

November 19, 2000, Darrell Waltrip drove in his last race. It took place at the Napa 500, at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he posted a 34th-place finish in the Haas-Carter Motorsports owned #66 Route66 Big K Ford Taurus. He finished 36th in points that season.