ASHLAND, Ky. – Rupert “Doc” Rice, who put his stamp on Ashland football way back in 1942 as a no-fear running back who bashed opponents with a relentless running style, died on Friday in Lexington.
Rice was the oldest living Tomcat at 93 years of age.
Those 1942 Tomcats were a grand bunch, finishing a 10-0 season with a 70-0 victory over Russell in five-year-old Putnam Stadium. But it was a game the previous week against Manual, a 7-6 road victory for Ashland, that clinched the mythical championship, at least in the mind of the Tomcats.
The only touchdown came when J.C. Kennard returned the second half kickoff for a score, zigging and zagging all the way down the field, remembered Paul DeHart Sr. in a 2013 interview. Jim Stith kicked the extra point.
Rice had a long run to the Manual 5-yard line late in the game to seal the hard-fought victory.
A young man named Charles Ramey was the coach of the Tomcats and he was named Kentucky Coach of the Year in 1942 by the Courier Journal.
The coach of Manual that year was none other than former Ashland Tomcat coach Paul Jenkins, Ramey’s former high school coach in 1933 and dear friend who would later become his son’s godfather.
Ramey left Ashland because of a call to duty with the Marines where he was in World War II battles from 1943 to 1945. Second Lt. Charles Ramey piloted a battalion of armored amtracks and knocked out Japanese battalions who had secretly infiltrated the island of Peleliu.
Rice was one of several members from the 1930s and 1940s classes at Ashland High School – Dick Patrick, Bun Wilson, Jack Nuckols, Rudy Gute and Ralph Felty were some of the others -who fought in the Battle of Okinawa. More than 100,000 Japanese combatants died in that battle, one of the last of World War II.
Doc Rice was a corporal in the Marines. His nickname of “Doc” came because his father was a doctor and it stuck with him for a lifetime.
Back in those days, there weren’t playoff games but Ashland and Glasgow were the only undefeated teams remaining that season. Both put dibs in on the state title.
Doc Rice, who broke three ribs and his nose that season, was one of the reasons why the Tomcats held that status. He was joined in the backfield by Kennard and Spencer Heaton and Ashland dominated opponents with a punishing single-wing attack.
Only three games were even close — 12-7 over Charleston High, 19-6 over Ironton and the win over Manual. Ashland never allowed more than a touchdown in a game and had five shutouts on the way to outscoring foes 341-31.
Doc and Jackie Rice were my neighbors when my family first moved to Grandview Drive in the 1960s. It was sad to hear about Doc’s passing but his Tomcat legacy will live on.