Kentucky’s colleges lost another pioneer sports icon last week when Transylvania University’s Harry Stephenson died in Lexington.
Harry was the last of his era who paved the way to what our intercollegiate athletics are today.
He was 95 when he passed away, which put him in the same era as:
Bernie Shiveley and Adolph Rupp at UK.
Peck Hickman, Frank Camp and Jolly John Heldman at UofL.
Charles “Turkey” Hughes at what is now Eastern Kentucky University.
Ellis Johnson and Bobby Laughlin at what is now Morehead State University.
Uncle Ed Diddle and Ted Hornback at what is now Western Kentucky University.
Brad Jones at Georgetown College.
Eddie Weber at UofL and Bellarmine. He led the basketball Cardinals in scoring, then coached both UofL and Bellarmine.
Monarchy Wyatt at Berea. He coached a state basketball championship at little Hazel Green in Laurel County. Don’t confuse Wyatt’s Hazel Green High with Hazel Green Academy which was in Wolfe County.
Joe B. Hall can tell tall tales about what we did at a church camp at the Academy when it was a church school. Don’t believe him.
Turkey was busy
Turkey Hughes won more varsity letters (plus freshman monograms) than any other UK athlete in the long history of the Wildcats. He starred in football, basketball, baseball and track. UK’s baseball field used to be next to old Stoll Field, which is where the track and football teams played. Turkey said that he used to dash to the track when he wasn’t batting or fielding for the baseball team. In all, Turkey won 16 or 17 awards. Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones won 12 letters, four each in basketball, football and baseball.
The only time I ever saw Ted Williams play in person was on that UK baseball field. The Red Sox played an exhibition game on their way north to Boston. Paul “Bear” Bryant came from his Alumni Gym basement office to see the great hitter. The first time Williams batted he hit a tremendous drive that landed on top of the equipment shed in deep center field.
It was so cold that the Red Sox pulled Williams out of the game and the Bear was smart enough that he left too.
Harry Stephenson was one of the many coaches who helped me when I was just getting started in this business. He coached both basketball and baseball at Transy when I wrote for the old Lexington Herald. I got to report on both of the sports that he coached.
I will never forget a baseball game that I covered. Transy’s catcher was called Yogi.
One afternoon he didn’t throw the ball to second when a runner stole the base.
“Why didn’t you throw the ball?” Harry demanded.
“Coach,” said Yogi, “I was afraid I would hit our pitcher in the head.”
Said Harry, “That’s exactly what you are supposed to be throwing at!”
When I broke my shoulder I had to go to two great doctors, Dr. Rudy Ellis and Dr. Walter Badenhausen, to get it repaired.
They introduced me to the anesthesiologist, who said, “Do you remember me? You wrote about me when I played basketball for Transylvania.”
The last thing I remember thinking was, Lord, I hope I wrote nice things about you.
In Cards’ system
Harry Stephenson was an outstanding baseball player whose career had been interrupted by World War II. He had climbed as high as Rochester in the St. Louis Cardinals’ extensive farm system prior to the war. At that time, Rochester was just one level below the Major Leagues.
When he returned to Transy, he did a lot of umpiring in Central Kentucky. He teamed with John Will “Beef” Showalter in calling a lot of college games, including Southeastern Conference games involving UK.
Red Auerbach story
This is about stuttering. I have numerous friends and some family members who are afflicted so I would never make fun of them. It is about an NBA coach, Fuzzy Levane, that Red Auerbach told me about years ago when he was scouting college players at Freedom Hall (Red was coach of the Boston Celtics when they ruled the NBA. Fuzzy died recently at 92 in Irmo, S.C.)
Red said, “Now I know that you are a friend of Frank Ramsey, and you know that he stutters a little. Well, Fuzzy (who was coach of the Knicks) really stuttered.”
Added Auerbach: Fuzzy asked me why Frank would never speak to him.
“I told him, you are going to say, ‘hello Fr, Fr, Frank.’ And Frank is going to say, ‘Hello, Fu, Fu, Fuzzy,’ and Frank is afraid that you are going to knock the hell out of him.”