ASHLAND, Ky. – Bob Wright and Paul Patterson, two of the greatest coaches in Ashland Tomcat basketball history, collected 16th Region championships in their first seasons as head coaches at Ashland and their best seasons were in the second seasons.
Wright started coaching the Tomcats in 1960 and Patterson’s first season was 1976. The each put their own stamp on the program with teams that still today are considered among the best in Ashland history.
It seemed fitting to have their first teams meet in Anderson gym in a simulated battle for the ages.
But the night ended up being remembered for another reason: It is when the legend that is Dicky Martin was born.
The 44-year “Voice of the Tomcats” was doing his first full play-by-play broadcast and he was excited. His dad was serving as his color man and Dirk Payne did the postgame interviews.
About halfway through the first quarter, with a tight game ensuing, Dicky started becoming conflicted. He was confused because he wanted to “homer” both teams but didn’t know how since they were wearing Tomcat jerseys. As an outlet to his frustration over not being able to taunt the opposing team, he found a new target – the referees. It would start a trend that has carried on for nearly five decades.
Dicky immediately began questioning calls over the air – and also loud enough for some of the refs, “the ones with rabbit ears,” as he called them, to hear.
They ignored him at first, but the criticism kept building with nearly every whistle. Finally, they had enough, and went looking for Ashland school officials.
“We want that guy,” they said, pointing to Dicky, “outta here!”
Dicky stood up and began tearing into them again, saying they weren’t worth the peas in their whistles.
“What did you say?” one of the refs shot back.
It was starting to get ugly. Dicky’s dad was tugging at his son, telling him to calm down, and then Dirk joined in the chorus of berating the referees.
“You’ll never call another AIT here again!” he said.
“You’re not throwing me outta here, by gawd!” Dicky screamed. “This is my house, this is the Tomcat house.”
A few minutes later, the police escorted an agitated Dicky Martin out of the gym. It wouldn’t be the last gym he was tossed from for comments made over the radio. The crowd cheered as he left the gym, but his first full game of doing play-by-play had unceremoniously ended. It was some kind of beginning. He went out to his car and listened to his father and Dirk finish out the broadcast.
He never forgot that moment, and his love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with referees continues to this day. “Well, I don’t know about that,” he said later. “Maybe I do get on them a little bit.”
(Insert eye roll here)
All that craziness happened while two great teams – the 1960 Tomcats and the 1976 Tomcats – did battle on the court. The sideshow was over. The focus was now on them.
Everybody had paused to watch the off-the-court moment that those who attended the game will never forget. But the game was memorable, too. It was some classic basketball.
It was a great defensive game and the 1960 Tomcats had managed a 29-26 halftime lead. It was a tight first half with three points being the largest margin for either team.
The teams were made up of some Ashland legends. The 60 Tomcats had players that would become the 61 state champion Tomcats and they were improving every day. But their best player was David “Ditto” Sparks and he was playing well in this one.
It was same scenario for Patterson’s first Tomcat team. The players that would make up the 30-game winners and state semifinalist the next season were starters in 1976, too. The experienced gained that season made them that much better.
Jim Harkins was one of those players. He began the second half with five consecutive points to put the 76 Tomcats ahead 31-29. He tied the game at 36 later in the quarter with both teams making it hard to score.
“That was some of the best man-to-man defenses that I’ve seen,” Wright said. “Our guys were coming back to the huddle saying they’re getting pushed around some. I told them to push back!”
And they did, which only made the game more physical.
The game went back and forth until the 60 Tomcats put together a defense-fueled 11-0 run that took the game from 43-42 to 54-42. The 76 Tomcats cut the deficit to 60-54 on back-to-back scores from Dummit and Don Allen but could never get any closer.
The 1960 Tomcats were happy to leave Anderson gym with a 64-56 victory.
Sparks, who led the 60 Tomcats with 18 points and eight rebounds, was right there in the mix.
“That timeout, when Coach Wright told us to push back, that made a difference,” he said. “Those guys were taking it to us.”
Patterson said the 60 Tomcats were as talented as any team he’d seen in a long time and the future looked bright for them.
“It won’t surprise me to see them winning the state championship,” he said.
But the Tomcat coach was as concerned with his new radio announcer as anything else.
“Has anybody checked on Dicky?” he asked. “He was fired-up leaving the gym. I haven’t seen that kind of passion in a long time. I hope he comes back. He adds a lot to the program but he’s going to have to learn to behave around those referees.”
As for the game, Patterson took the loss hard.
“Our defense was good for three quarters, but they scored 21 in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We can’t let that happen and it won’t happen anymore. That’s inexcusable in my program.”
Harkins was the only 76 Tomcat in double figures with 19 points. Jeff Kovach, who found himself banging inside with Gene Smith, was held to eight points and five rebounds. Dale Dummit scored nine and Mark Swift had seven points and three assists.
The 76 Tomcats were forced into 17 turnovers, a statistic that didn’t escape Patterson.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We have to be better.”
Harold Sergent was the only other double-figure scorer for the 60 Tomcats with 13 points. He also had four steals and three assists. Conley had four points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
“We grew up some tonight and played well,” Wright said. “But Dick Martin’s son was the best show I’ve seen in a long time.”
Ashand’s 1960 team won 29 games and the 16th Region title to end a five-year drought for the Tomcats. They lost to Maysville in the Sweet 16 opener.
Ashand’s 1976 team also snapped a five-year drought by winning the 16th Region title. The Tomcats fell to Christian County in the Sweet 16 opener.
1960 ASHLAND (64) – Sergent 3-10 7-10 13, Smith 3-6 0-0 6, Conley 2-3 0-1 4, Hilton 3-5 0-0 6, Sparks 7-11 4-6 18, Wright 2-6 0-2 4, Cram 1-4 0-0 2, Daniels 0-0 1-2 1, Church 4-8 0-0 8, Sexto 1-5 0-2 2. FG: 26-58. FT:13-23. Rebounds: 34 (Conley 10, Hilton 4, Sparks 8, Wright 4, Cram 2, Daniels 3, Church 2, Sexton 1). Assists: 12 (Sergent 3, Smith 1, Conley 4, Sparks 1, Church 1, Sexton 1). PF: 22. Turnovers: 10.
1976 ASHLAND (56) – M.Swift 2-4 3-7 7, Allen 1-3 0-0 2, Harkins 6-11 7-8 18, Kovach 4-13 0-0 8, Dummit 3-5 3-6 9, Mann 1-4 4-4 6, King 0-0 4-6 4, G.Swift 0-0 1-2 1, Smith 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 17-41. FT: 22-33. Rebounds: 24 (M.Swift 2, Allen 2, Kovach 5, Harkins 4, Dummit 4, King 4, Smith 3). Assists: 10 (M.Swift 3, Allen 1, Harkins 1, Kovach 2, Mann 1, King 1, Smith 1). PF: 21. Turnovers: 17.
1960 ASHLAND 14 15 14 21 – 64
1976 ASHLAND 10 16 16 14 – 56