Drop the mic: Putnam Stadium press box to be named after broadcasters Dick and Dicky Martin

ASHLAND, Ky. – Dicky Martin hasn’t missed broadcasting any football games for the Ashland Tomcats since taking the main mic from his father in 1976, a streak of 533 games.

He’s missed only two basketball games – one when his father, DIck, died and another when he was sick with the flu. That’s all over 45 years of calling games.

So putting his name and that of his father, who started the broadcasting tradition in 1953, on the front of the Putnam Stadium press box was even more than fitting. It’s a natural.

Dicky Martin was emotional after being told the news on Wednesday in front of the stadium press box. He’s called games in that structure since 2014 when the “new” Putnam Stadium was built. But he logged games from 1976 to 2013 in the old press box that was razed during renovations.

School board chairman David Latherow, vice chairman Patsy Lindsey, Putnam Stadium restoration chairman Greg Jackson and committee members Donna Suttle (and me) and Putnam Stadium groundskeeper Steve Conley shared in giving Martin the news that left him literally speechless.

“That hasn’t happened to me too many times,” he said.

How true. Coaches, referees, fans, band directors and the players themselves have come under criticism from Dicky Martin, who has frankly mellowed some with age.

His father moved the family from Huntington to Ashland in 1952 and he started doing Tomcat sports over the air on WCMI a year later and thus the tradition was born. Dick Martin was a brilliant businessman who was ahead of his time and he made radio important to the community. He knew sports needed to be part of that outreach.

Both father and son always “told it like it was” over the air and their styles were similar in other ways, too. They would always let you know if the Tomcats weren’t playing up to par or if the officials weren’t playing fair (through their maroon-colored eyes). Dicky would always say the radio has an on and off switch if you don’t like what you’re hearing. While Dicky could be critical of the Tomcats, nobody else better be. It was like taking on his family.

Both father and son are radio icons and were must-listens to anyone who followed the Tomcats.

Dicky Martin was quick to say that it was indeed an honor but not because of him but his father. “This is for him,” he said. “Not for me. He was the best. He set the bar high. I’ll never reach his level.”

“This is for both of you,” Lindsey quickly said.

Football and Putnam Stadium have always been special for Martin, who admits it’s his favorite sport to call and watch – “I love this place,” he said – although admitting the undefeated 33-0 basketball season from two years ago would be hard to ever top.

Last year was a mammoth highlight in getting to call the Tomcats’ 11-0 state championship season – the first title since 1990. It was Ashland’s first undefeated and untied season since 1942.

But he said the memories of Putnam Stadium are too numerous for him to count.

“What a place, what a place,” he said looking over the landscape.

Jackson and the restoration committee took the naming proposal to the Ashland Independent School Board meeting on Monday where it received unanimous approval. Then they had to keep it a secret from Martin, who said he had no idea the honor was coming when he was invited to the stadium “to talk about the season.”

Jackson had asked him to come to the stadium to talk over some ideas for the season.

“When Dicky starts this season, he and his father will be in their 69th continuous season of calling Tomcat sports,” Jackson said. “Nobody will come close to that accomplishment in our lifetimes. They are such a large part of Tomcat Nation and we felt like the Martin family needed to be recognized.”

The Tomcats will celebrate the 2020 state championship in the season opener and the press box ceremony will take place in the second home game, Jackson said.

Martin begins season No. 46 on Aug. 21 when the Tomcats open at Putnam Stadium.

Spotlight shines on northeastern Kentucky with KHSAA HOF inductions

ASHLAND, Ky. – Saturday is a day of redemption and celebration for northeastern Kentucky as it relates to state achievements. The spotlight is shining brightly.

Five  of the 12-member class of 2020 will be inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame in Lexington have direct ties to northeastern Kentucky. Two of them made the mark right here in the Ashland area and are overdue for the recognition. Neither could have done anymore than they did. But let’s not go there because it’s a time to celebrate our Bobs – Ashland’s Bob Lynch and Boyd County’s Bob Stacey – and Paintsville coaching great Charlie Adkins and football-basketball star Joey Couch and Meade Memorial’s Donnis Butcher.

Lynch played for the Tomcats 50 years ago during the golden era of Ashland sports in the 1960s. He is arguably the most dominant pitcher to ever take the mound in Central Park since he never lost a game on that field. Not in Babe Ruth League, not in high school or American Legion. He was undefeated at CP-1. While he would be quick to credit his teammates – and he had some great ones – Bobby Lynch was that dominant of a pitcher.

He was 5-0 in the state tournament when the Tomcats won three championships in a row from 1966-68. He was unflappable and unhittable. Calm under pressure even as a sophomore pitching in a state championship game where the Tomcats defeated Shelby County 2-1 to begin that championship streak that has only been matched one time in Kentucky history.

Lynch was 27-2 with an 0.42 ERA in his Ashland career. He was also a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and a regional track champion despite running hardly any regular season meets because of baseball.

Bob Lynch is in the conversation as the greatest athlete in Ashland Tomcat history. I’ve said before he’s on my Mount Rushmore of Tomcats.

If your choosing up teams, you wanted Bob Lynch in whatever sport it happened to be. His competitiveness drove him like few others and maybe that’s a credit to growing up the younger brother of Bill Lynch, a fireballing lefty who had an equaling amazing 27-2 record during his Tomcat career and signed a professional contract with the Cleveland Indians (not the Guardians). He went into the KHSAA Hall of Fame a few years ago – another long overdue honor. It’s a shame the Lynch brothers didn’t go in together.

During their days of growing up and competing, they pushed each other to greatness and took us along on the ride with them. They were both generational athletes during a day when there was a lot of those in the area (think Don Gullett, Larry Conley and many others).

I can say this about the Lynch brothers too: There are none better as people. They are more than friends to me but that doesn’t bias me about their athletic abilities. Ask anybody who competed with or against them about those attributes.

A competitive streak was also motivational for Bob Stacey, who I came to know closely while he was building an incredible track and field program at Boyd County. Bob was always pushing me to do more for those athletes at the newspaper. It was because of him that we started an All-Area track and field team and that those athletes were given the same kind of space normally reserved for basketball and football.

Bob made me aware of the sport and was the greatest advocate for the running community that this area has ever known. I respect him so much for his passion and desire for what he taught so well. It was never about him but it was because of him that track and field and cross country became an important part of the coverage of sports in The Daily Independent.

Bob made a difference for decades and his daughter has carried on that legacy.

He coached track and field and cross country at Boyd County from 1975 to 2000 and I’ll never forget the girls state championship team in 1980. He made the most of four or five incredible athletes to bring home the title. It was amazing and something I’ll never forget watching. I never knew track and field could be so exciting but Bob showed me differently.

He won 25 regional titles, two cross country state runner-up finishes and the state title. He also coached track and field at Fairview.

Bob Stacey, like Bob Lynch, was relentless in his pursuit of greatness. Maybe it was something in the neighborhood since they lived on the same street.

The two inductees from Paintsville High School are deserving of this honor as well as Donnis Butcher. Adkins was a fierce competitor on the coaching sidelines and Couch and Butcher were also generational athletes that could do anything.

But I’m especially excited for our Bobs and their families. The wait has been so long, including an extra year because of COVID, but the day has finally come.

A big congratulations to Bob Lynch and Bob Stacey. Your footprints in northeastern Kentucky cannot be filled. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to write about both of you.

RIP Grady Walter, a winner in life and in football

Grady Walter’s name isn’t listed on a wall or in the record books for coaching victories at Russell High School. But you can rest assured, he won games. Lots of them.

He wrote the book on how to be a successful assistant coach – and a best friend – during a long and successful tenure with the Red Devils. Grady was the first assistant coach that Ivan McGlone hired when he took over in 1976 and he stuck with him for decades until retiring in 2003 after 33 years in the Russell school system.

Grady Walter was a friend to anybody who came in his path, the kind of person who would go out of his way to help you. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. And he was a competitor of the fiercest kind who loved to win and know how to do it, both on the field and in life.

I loved talking to Grady about football, or life, or anything. He was sometimes blunt, almost matter-of-fact, but in a kind way. Players loved and respected him and played hard for him. The Red Devil football family couldn’t have had two better men leading that program for all those years than Ivan and Grady. I don’t think of one without the other.

Grady died on Friday after a long illness at the age of 75. Ivan, his coaching buddy who was more like a brother, died last year. That’s a lot to take. When I was cutting my sportswriting teeth, those guys were coming onto the scene at Russell. Much of my early assignments was covering Russell football and I sure learned a lot from these two men. How good a coach was Grady Walter? He was inducted into the Russell Hall of Fame in 2010. How many assistant coaches are recognized like that?

Ivan McGlone and Grady Walter were inseparable friends and a great coaching duo at Russell High School for 29 years.

They loved to win but they loved family more. Much more. Their wives were the queens and were treated that way.

“He interviewed me for the job and I was in limbo,” Grady told me in an interview in April 2010. “Sue (his wife) had some surgical problems over the summer and I told him I had to take care of her first.”

Turned out, Sue did fine, so Grady accepted the position. The two became fast friends, as did their families. It was as if they each had two families.

McGlone went on to become a coaching icon in northeastern Kentucky, winning state championships in 1978 and 2005 and finishing as a runner-up in 2006. Grady was with him for 29 seasons. It was like having two head coaches on the sidelines.

Grady, whose first job was with the FBI, could have been a head coach at any school in northeastern Kentucky. That’s how much he knew the game. But that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Ivan and Grady were inseparable, the epitome of teamwork in the coaching ranks. Every assistant coach should aspire to be like Grady Walter, who was not only loyal but never afraid to tell Ivan if something needed changing. He was a sounding board for him and whatever method those two devised, it sure did work for a lot of wins.

Ivan and Grady were there for each other’s triumphs and tragedies, in football and life. They laughed together and they cried together. Now we’re all crying because they’re gone.

When Grady was coaching, he lived in Ashland so his boys attended school in Ashland. Dwight, his youngest son, was a member of the Tomcats’ 1990 state championship football team.

The friendly family feud was nothing new for Grady, who was one of four siblings who went to Catlettsburg while three others went to Ashland schools. Two of his brothers, Dick and Jack, actually played against each other. Grady was fast friends with the late Bill Tom Ross in high school. Both went on to become outstanding coaches.

Grady Walter told me his experience with Dwight was a good one.

“We always had Thursday night meal together,” he said. “Sue wanted us home. His senior year, when they were playing Greenup County, I remember him saying to me ‘We’ll beat them 40 points.’ I told him you better watch saying things like that.’’

It turned out the Musketeers stunned the Tomcats in Putnam Stadium, handing the ‘90 team their only loss that season.

But overall, it was a season to remember for the Tomcats and Dwight Walter was going to be part of it.

Ivan “fired” Grady as the coach on Fridays that season, telling him “to scout Ashland.” He didn’t want his friend to miss his son’s senior season.

“He told me to coach through the week and scout Ashland on Friday nights,” Grady said.

But a tragic accident took the life of Russell assistant Jim Tardy in September that year that sent the Red Devil family reeling and Grady returned to the sideline for the rest of the season. Tardy was like a son to McGlone and close to everybody on the staff. It was a difficult time.

“The three of us hit it off real good,” Grady said. “Tardy coached the guards and centers, I coached the backs and Ivan walked around.”

Grady chuckled at himself. “Don’t tell him I said that.”

In the last game of the regular season, Ashland and Russell played on Senior Night in Putnam Stadium. Grady, decked out in Russell coaching attire, went over to be with his son and wife prior to pregame ceremonies for the seniors.

“Somebody from the stands yelled ‘Who’s that SOB in the Russell jacket?’ I was so mad, I couldn’t hardly see straight,” he said.

Ashland won easily, with Dwight snagging an interception on a play near the sideline on a play that was called by his father. It brought an end to a difficult season for the Red Devils, one of the few those coaching giants ever experienced.

However, Grady was able to watch his son’s senior year of playoff games that eventually resulted in a state championship. Bittersweet would be how he would best describe 1990.

“Ivan supported Dwight and Sue and Gloria (Ivan’s wife) are great friends,” Grady said at the time. “Our families are real close. We’re real close.”

You get close from coaching together for 27 years. You’re often in the same foxhole, riding the same buses, dealing with the same player or parent issues.

Most relationships, coaching or otherwise, don’t last nearly that long.

It would be a fitting gesture for football coaches in northeastern Kentucky to name a Grady Walter Award for the area’s top assistant coach. Anybody who received it would surely be honored to be put in the same category as maybe the best assistant coach this area has ever witnessed.

Kendall Bocard, QB of ’58 Tomcats and member of UK’s ‘Thin Thirty,’ dies at 79

Kendall Bocard, the quarterback on Ashland’s undefeated 1958 football team and a member of the University of Kentucky’s “Thin Thirty” team, died Wednesday in Lexington. He was 79.

Bocard was known for his toughness with the Tomcats and Wildcats, where he played two seasons at UK for Charlie Bradshaw, who drove away more than 50 players with brutal practices in his first season after replacing Blanton Collier as head coach in 1962.

As a Tomcat, Bocard played quarterback and inside linebacker alongside Herb Conley on the last undefeated Ashland team until last season’s state championship run.

In 1958, Ashland went 10-0-1 with only a 18-18 tie against Huntington East the lone blemish. The Tomcats finished the season ranked No. 1 in the state coaches poll while St. Xavier was No. 1 in the Courier Journal poll. There were no state playoffs yet.

KENDALL BOCARD was the quarterback for Ashland’s undefeated 1958 team and was a member of UK’s “Thin Thirty” in 1962.

Bocard mostly handed off and blocked for running backs Conley, Dick Fillmore and Joey Layman.

“We were a helluva good football team,” Bocard said in a 2008 interview. “We were not finesse. We ran the belly series. I’d put the ball in Herbie’s belly and we’d sometimes run 10 yards before I’d pull it out. It was a good, physical football team. Kind of like that 1961 (Tomcat) basketball team.”

Fillmore’s shifty running accounted for 1,223 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 11.4 per carry. Conley was the inside power and ran for 906 yards and 16 touchdowns with 7.2 per carry.

Bocard (491 yards rushing) and Layman (459) also did their share of running. Layman scored on runs of 50, 18 ad 17 against Model during a 34-13 victory in the season-ending Recreation Bowl.

As for passing, well, it just wasn’t that kind of team. Bocard completed only 14 passes all season — nine of them going for touchdowns. Monte Campbell had 13 catches for 373 yards and eight TDs.

“We didn’t have to throw,” Bocard said. “We had a very good offensive line and with Herbie, Dick and Joey, why pass?”

Bocard was a hard-nosed runner himself and teamed with Conley as inside linebackers in a wide-tackle six scheme. They were both punishing tacklers on a physical Tomcat defense.

Ashland rushed for 3,691 yards and outscored opponents 424-97.

John Radjunas, who would become the quarterback of Ashland’s 1967 championship team, said Bocard, Conley and Fillmore were his first “Tomcat heroes.” Radjunas said he wore No. 12 “because Bocard and Joe Namath did.”

Bocard came back the following year and helped Ashland to an 8-2 season before heading to Kentucky on scholarship.

Bradshaw had played for Bryant at Kentucky and was a Bryant assistant at Alabama when he was hired to replace Collier in 1962. After the kind and gentlemanly ways of Collier, UK fans hoped Bradshaw would bring a tougher approach and his first team was know as the “Thin Thirty” after the brutal practices caused a mass exodus of players to either quit or transfer.

Bocard stuck it out and was a fullback and linebacker for the Wildcats, rushing for 160 yards and catching 10 passes for 127 yards in the 1962 season with the depleted roster. Kentucky finished 3-5-2 but stunned Tennessee 12-10 in Knoxville on a late field goal to become immortalized with fans. Collier had tied and lost to the Volunteers in his last two seasons.

Bocard rushed for 219 yards on 60 carries in the 1963 season. He came back as a graduate student and became one of UK’s first male cheerleaders.

A Life Celebration service will be Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Clark Legacy Center, Brannon Crossing in Nicholasville. Family and friends will meet from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.