They packed into the historic Phillips-Thurman House in Sonora Wednesday night, for a chance to see a collection of heroes not often assembled.
It was a party to celebrate the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame induction of Raymond “Corky” Withrow into its ranks. Withrow is among a handful high school legends who made the 1956 season probably the most storied season the history of Kentucky High School basketball.
You had Withrow leading Central City, which at the time was the nation’s second-winningest high school team. He averaged 30.2 points as a junior for the Golden Tide and 30.9 as a senior.
That was the year that “King” Kelly Coleman was setting scoring records at Wayland. Freddie Maggard was leading Carr Creek — hit the game-winning shot in the state semifinals, then again in the state finals, and still didn’t make the All-State team. They followed on the heels of Howie Crittenden’s Cuba Cubs winning the state title in 1952.
Last night, all of those but Coleman (called away by a family issue) were in attendance at Charlie and Claudia Thurman’s beautifully restored historic home.
When former North Hardin history teacher Sherrill Williams presented Withrow with a painting featuring his sports exploits — his high school heroics, playing later for Georgetown College and the St. Louis Cardinals alongside Stan Musial, Withrow teared up a bit.
Withrow signed with Adolph Rupp to play for the University of Kentucky, but opted instead to sign a professional baseball contract. He did later play for a Georgetown College team that beat the University of Louisville.
“I am humbled by all this,” Withrow said. “I’m 75 years old. There’s been no newspapers, no nothing, for a long time. Now people want my autograph. I don’t know how to handle it.”
Roger Cook, superintendent of Taylor County schools and one of a handful of men who pushed hard to get this honor for Withrow, stood up beside him and said, “I just apologize from the KHSAA that it took this long. He’d been owed this 20 years or more.”
The crowd ate — Charlie Thurman prepared one of his signatures, a New Orleans Shrimp Boil, laid out over a large kitchen island over newspaper: cajun boiled shrimp, kielbasa sausage, okra, corn on the cob, red potatoes, onions and garlic.
And they remembered.
All these years later, and a guest book with visitors from Corbin, Bowling Green, Lietchfield, Owensboro and parts beyond was filled with names of people who still view the careers of Withrow and these others as the golden age of basketball in Kentucky.
“People are still talking about them, and that says something,” said author Gary West.
Toward the end of the night, Withrow talked about his major league experience. He had the distinction of being the man whom the Cardinals used to replace Stan Musial when they took Musial out of games during his farewell season.
“They’d take Stan out and put me in and the crowd would boo when I went out there,” Withrow said. “They had to stop the game at Wrigley Field because they threw so much trash out there.”
It’s good that finally, somebody got around to throwing him a party.
Learn more about a project Thurman is undertaking to record the history of Withrow, Crittenden, Kelly, Maggard and other stars of the era in this column by Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader.