Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hall-of-Fame Night in Cadiz

The fancier affair is tonight—a banquet in the school’s cafeteria, at which the formal induction will take place—but Trigg County High School went ahead and also celebrated its third Athletic Hall of Fame class amid a basketball doubleheader last night at Wildcat Gym.

Between Caldwell County’s 56-20 win over Trigg County in the girls’ game and Trigg’s 83-60 win over Caldwell in the boys’, Cadiz warmly recognized Ladonna Diggs (a member of the school’s 1972 and ’74 Class A state track-and-field champion), Allen “Buddy” Perry (an assistant coach for Trigg County’s 1971 and ’72 Class A state football champs) and the school’s 1962-63 boys’ basketball team. Ms. Diggs was so honored, the 55-ish ex-cheerleader for the dear, ol’ black and white of Trigg County somersaulted her thanks again and again to the faithful in the mostly filled, 2,575-seat Wildcat Gym.

That 1962-63 basketball team is the one that opened the facility on old U.S. 68/Ky. 80 that the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats still use today. A fire in June 1960 had destroyed both Trigg County’s high school and gym. So, for two years, the basketball teams practiced in a Cadiz warehouse and played all of their games in away gyms. The '62-63 Wildcats then opened their season with nine straight home games—and nine straight wins. Trigg County, in fact, played 23 of its 26 games that season at Wildcat Gym and finished 23-3. Even the Seventh District and Second Region tournament games were played in the new joint. After winning the district tournament, the Wildcats then eliminated Livingston Central for their first-ever region-tournament victory. In the Second Region semifinals, Princeton Dotson ended Trigg County’s season with a 52-33 decision. Driving down Ky. 139 from Princeton to Cadiz for Friday evening’s game, I heard the current coach say on WKDZ say that so many folks came out to that Trigg-Dotson game that some of them who were turned away at the doors climbed onto the roofs of adjoining buildings to watch through the windows of Wildcat Gym.

That Princeton Dotson team included Dwight and Greg Smith, the brothers who would go on to excel at Western Kentucky University along with Clem Haskins in the middle 1960s. Both Smiths were drafted into the NBA, but Dwight never made it; he was killed, along with his and Greg’s sister, in an automobile accident on Mother’s Day 1967. Because Dwight was killed at age 21, his image is suspended in time—forever the college senior. And so it was a little strange to see his old Second Region high-school rivals, these 1962-63 Trigg County High Wildcats, on Friday night. Unlike Dwight Smith, these guys are, of course, old men—gray and ample.

After their fellow inductees Ms. Diggs and Mr. Perry, the Wildcats of 1962-63 were introduced one by one and walked to center court to roars. All but a couple of the surviving members were there, and WKDZ said that each of them is expected at tonight’s banquet. One of the players who has died was represented at the game by his daughter, and she came out to cheers. The coach came out to cheers. The manager came out to cheers. Wildcat Gym cheered them all.

Obviously, I sat on the wrong side of the gym to get a decent picture.

The hall-of-famers sent back to their reserved seats in one corner of the gym, things moved on, then, to the contemporary business of homecoming formalities. A girl in a cocktail dress and one of the boys’ basketball players were crowned, and then the whole court—except for the basketball players—took seats amid balloons and flowers on the stage at the north end of the floor.

Then the basketball resumed. The Trigg County boys warmed up to a very loud playing of “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool (featuring Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh), which I found surprising given that the song is 17 years old. (I shouldn’t’ve been surprised, however, given that the Trigg band was playing Bob Segar’s 34-year-old “Old Time Rock-‘n’-Roll” when I arrived at Wildcat Gym).

The Caldwell County starters and then the Trigg County starters were introduced, and then the PA announcer announced, “You can take their pictures off the milk cartons. Welcome back to Wildcat Gym, The Black Hole!” I don’t know what the story is here, but I think “The Black Hole” must be the nickname for a group of 50 to 75 young fans—they all appeared to be Trigg High students—dressed mostly in black and congregated at courtside. Given the PA announcer’s couching of the situation, my guess is this little klatch of Cameron Crazies had maybe been banished for a game or two. Before the game, I saw a well-groomed, middle-aged guy in new jeans and a white sport coat—probably the school principal, because he was busy with this and that all night—talking seriously with the ringleader of the crew. And then just before tipoff, one of the game’s three officials came over and talked to that same kid, who looked a good bit like a young Chevy Chase—tall, dark and mischievous. He was in black T-shirt, back shorts, long black socks and black sneakers, and he led the group in all sorts of chants and howls throughout the game. Boys and girls, adults and students alike were fixated on the the guy's every move.

Trigg County came out and ran up a 20-9 lead after one quarter, as it threw in three-pointers galore. With each one, the PA announcer bellowed, “ANOTHER! … TRIGG! … TREEEEEEEEEEY!” Except it took me (an idiot) forever to figure out what the heck the guy was saying (Treg Trey? Trey Trey? I’m sitting in Trigg County; how could it take me so long to figure that out?).

In the second quarter, Caldwell County’s 22—the tallest kid on the floor—had a fluid block, rebound and outlet assist for a layup, and that sparked the Tigers to a surge of transition baskets. They weren’t selling any sort of program in the lobby (do they still sell programs at high-school bask- … wait, didn’t they sell programs at Heath’s basketball games in the ‘80s?), so I don’t know, but my guess is that 22 is no older than a sophomore. He’s pretty good, but it looks like he might’ve just spurted about 5 inches in the last year. He seemed still a little unfamiliar with his own big frame, and he seemed a little bashful at the start of the game. But 22 and the rest of the Tigers got it going in the second quarter, and Trigg’s lead was down to 37-29 at half.

One would have to think—and one could probably find out pretty quickly if one wasn’t scared anymore just to walk up to someone and simply ask—that Caldwell would be Trigg’s biggest rival. The schools are not even 25 miles apart. Trigg has won the Second Region in boys’ basketball twice; in girls’ basketball, never. Caldwell has one boys’ regional title and three girls’. Both schools have won two football state championships.

No doubt the locals would dispute this point, but Cadiz and Princeton have always to me to feel pretty similar. Even their differences feel to an outsider to fall along a pretty narrow band. Cadiz has about 2,500 people; Princeton, about 6,500. Cadiz is known for country ham; Princeton, for tobacco. Cadiz’s is a strip, and Princeton’s is a square, but both towns have quaint and relatively active downtowns. Cadiz doesn’t have a Taco John’s (Princeton's on Facebook), but Princeton doesn’t have a Ferrell’s Hamburgers (Cadiz's photographed below). Trigg County has an out-of-sight archery program; Caldwell had Emma Talley.

I’d gotten a little focused on typing and missed a lot of the early second half. But Trigg had zipped out to a 67-50 lead with 5:27 to go in the fourth. New Trigg County High School Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Allen “Buddy” Perry had seen enough. Before he beat the crowd to the parking lot, Mr. Perry sought out the principal-looking dude, shook hands and appeared to say thanks for the evening.

As (fantastic) WKDZ previously reported, Mr. Perry was as an assistant coach on the Wildcats’ early ‘70s state-championship football teams. He worked with the lines, and one of his pupils was David Sadler, who (famously so here—there are signs at the edges of town) went on to play football at the University of Alabama. But that’s not all that Mr. Perry did around Trigg County High. He also coached the baseball team for a while. And he coached the wrestling team for a while. And he coached the golf team for a while. And he was an assistant track-and-field coach for a while. And he was athletics director for a while one time and then for a while another time. And, then, WKDZ says, “following his retirement, Coach Perry stayed involved in Trigg County athletics by running the clock for Trigg County basketball games for over a decade.”

I’m a person who has a tendency to feel a little discouraged that Earth is a mostly caustic and prickly place. But I come out to something like a high-school basketball game in a community like Cadiz, and this world feels warmer. The folks don’t even necessarily need to directly reach out to me; in fact, it’s even more effective just to watch and listen to all of the different folks being nice to each other. 

One can see why Mr. Perry couldn’t get enough—still hasn’t been able to get enough—of hanging out around a place like Wildcat Gym.


  1. For the record, I think Cadiz and Princeton are very different places. To me, Princeton feels like part of western Kentucky -- it reminds me of towns like Benton and Mayfield. Cadiz feels like part of southern Kentucky -- it reminds me of Tennessee and Elkton. In fact, I always had the impression that Trigg's great dream in basketball is to beat Christian County.

  2. I should also add that this was a great, great report by Eric.