ASHLAND, Ky. – For the last 51 years, John Radjunas has had the game ball from Ashland’s 1967 state championship victory tucked away at his home.
Radjunas, who was a senior quarterback, was handed the football by one of the game’s officials as he was running off the field following Ashland’s 19-14 triumph over Elizabethtown.
The official figured it would be something Ashland would want in its trophy case, Radjunas said.
Fifty-one years later, the ball has found its way there after Radjunas presented it to Tomcat athletic director Mark Swift who made a spot for the encased football beside the ’67 championship trophy in the two-year-old wall display.
Principal Jamie Campbell, football coach Tony Love and cheerleading coach Cathy Goble were also at the impromptu ceremony.
Radjunas had no intention of keeping it when it was handed to him but the game ball – and even the Tomcats’ state championship victory – took a backseat to circumstances of these damp and dreary day.
Ashland’s victory at the Fairgrounds in Louisville will be forever linked with the tragic death of Joe Franklin, who was killed that morning in an automobile accident. He was traveling to a basketball scrimmage with four others that morning when he crashed on U.S. 60 just past Morehead. The passengers in the accident survived.
The players didn’t learn about what happened until after the game when coach Jake Hallum told them. Cheers turned to tears as they mourned the death of the popular Franklin, an All-American boy who played football as a sophomore but chose to concentrate on his best sport, basketball, as a junior.
It was no time to show off the game ball, Radjunas reasoned, so he tucked it into his bag and mostly forgot about it. The next day the Tomcats bused home and he went into the locker room and saw the football in the bag but decided, well, he would just keep it.
After all, Radjunas and everybody else associated with the Tomcat team and fans, were numb over the horrendous news. The championship even had a hollow ring to it.
He took care of the football over the years, even painting STATE CHAMPS 1967 ASHLAND 19, ETOWN 14 on it. Radjunas also purchased a nice case for it.
But after learning that Ashland had rebuilt its trophy case in the lobby of James A. Anderson Gymnasium, he knew that’s where it needed to be for all Tomcat fans to see.
So he made connections with Cathy Goble, his classmate, and she contacted Swift to put it all in motion. Then, on Thursday morning, the ‘ol quarterback made one more handoff for the Tomcats.