The Ashland Tomcat football family has lost another star player from the 1950s era.
Paul Reliford, the father of Fairview High School football and a top-notch educator who served 35 years as superintendent and teacher in the Westwood school, died Saturday. He was 84.
The Eagles started playing football in 1970 when then Fairview Superintendent Denver Ball talked Paul Reliford into being his coach.
Reliford had played football for Ball as an Ashland Tomcat. He was an outstanding receiver, catching passes from Herb Thompson and “Buffalo” Bill Hopkins with regularity. He hauled in 30 passes for 629 yards and six touchdowns during a 4-5-1 season in 1954.
His best game came in the season opener when he had 138 yards receiving in a 14-6 win over Catlettsburg in Putnam Stadium.
Reliford, who was a truant officer in the Raceland-Worthington school system when Ball approached him, wasn’t sure what he was getting into by starting a new program at Fairview, but his high school coach meant so much to him he was willing to give it a try.
Reliford even turned down a more lucrative full-time job from the railroad that would have paid him “twice the salary.”
He and his wife, Germaine, were bringing up two boys, Chris and Glenn, and the extra money would have helped, Reliford said in a 2012 interview.
He said it was tough early on to make ends meet. They used newspapers for drapes, he said.
“I loved Mr. Ball and I knew I’d be happy (coaching),” Reliford said. “I was also married with two kids so I knew it’d be a challenge.”
Deward Davis had already started the football rolling with the Westwood Boys Club league and Scott Davidson was an outstanding assistant coach. So the pieces for success were in place.
It turned out quite well for Fairview and Reliford, who went on to become the school superintendent after a successful stint as football coach. Both of his sons also played for the Eagles.
“This community has been good to me,” said Reliford, who lost his wife in 2012. “This community has always supported the school and supported me. I’ll always be an Ashland guy though.”
Reliford is a former Elks Sports Day honoree.
One of his best friends for a lifetime was George Stout, the longtime chairman of Sports Day and a supporter of all Fairview sports.
He also made a lifelong friend in Rex Cooksey, his next-door neighbor and a former Eagle player for him. “Rex is not only a good friend, but he was a good football coach,” Reliford said in 2012. The two coached together for several seasons.
“Paul was my teacher, coach and mentor but most of all my best friend,” Cooksey said. “I owe him everything because he believed in me and made a 22-year-old kid head football coach in 1978. We had a lot of great memories together.”
Fairview went 5-3 in its first season in 1970.