Dudley’s doing right

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Legendary Kentucky high school football coach Dudley Hilton returns to battle Marion Co.

By The Staff

By Jimmie Earls


Sun Sports Writer

There’s an old phrase that says you can never go home again. But if you are fortunate enough to win 320 football games in your life, maybe they’ll make an exception.

Bell County head football coach and Springfield native Dudley Hilton returned to the area last Saturday as his Bobcats took on the Marion County Knights in the 2009 Marion County Pigskin Classic in Lebanon.

In his Kentucky coaching career, now entering its 35th season, Hilton has accumulated 320 wins and ranks as the second-winningest high school football coach in the state, trailing only Newport Central Catholic head coach Bob Schneider, who has 338 victories in his 44 years as coach.

Trailing Hilton by just one is Belfry head coach Philip Haywood, who stands at 319 victories. The only other active coach in the 300-win club is Bob Redman, head coach at Male High School in Louisville, who currently has 308 wins. Looking to break into the club soon is Danville head coach Sam Harp, who sits on the threshold with 294 career wins.

Hilton has also won three state football championships, each in a different class. He won the 1991 3A state title with Bell County, defeating Meade County 35-13. His second championship was in 1997, when he led 2A Bourbon County to a 39-28 win over Owensboro Catholic.

Last year, he earned his third state title by going 15-0 with Bell County, finishing the season with a 15-13 win over Bullitt East in the 4A title game.

That was a special win because Hilton’s son, John Dudley, played a big role in getting that third championship.

John caught a nine-yard scoring pass with 3:40 remaining in the game to give Bell County a 15-7 lead, then he was part of a defense that denied Bullitt East a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with 10 seconds left to play. He had a key interception and was credited with 10 tackles.

“He was just named on of the top five juniors in the state,” said a proud Dudley.

Hilton can attribute his successful career to learning an appreciation for sports at an early age. His playing days at Washington County formed the foundation on which he built a legacy of winning.

“It’s what I grew up with,” said Dudley. “I learned a lot from coaches Charlie Kolasa and Corky Yankey. I played ball for them, and that’s what I grew up with. I was one of those kids who grew up without a father, and if it wasn’t for sports, I don’t know where I’d be today.”

Where he is today is one of the most successful high school football coaches in the state.

After graduating from Washington County High School in 1969, where he competed in football, basketball, baseball and track, Hilton attended St. Catharine College in Springfield, where he took basic courses that paved the way for him to graduate from Eastern Kentucky.

Soon after earning his degree, it didn’t take long for a coaching opportunity to present itself.

“I started out as a head coach, I never was an assistant,” he said. “I started out in Breathitt County. I had a job in Springfield. I was going to come back as their eighth-grade coach, but I got a call one Sunday afternoon right before school started asking if I wanted a head coaching job. I had never really been away from home, but I packed my little suitcase, took off from Springfield and I’ve been gone ever since.”

Hilton still has family in Springfield and returns frequently to visit them. He still gets recognized when he walks down the street.

“Everybody knows me as ‘Yogi’”, he said. “That was my nickname growing up. Anywhere I would go, if somebody saw me and yelled ‘Yogi”, I knew they had to be from Springfield because they were the only ones who knew my nickname. I have a lot of good memories about Springfield and Washington County. I used to play on the field behind the school board building.”

A few years ago, Hilton came close to bringing his winning tradition back to Washington County when the school was in search of a head football coach.

“I had an opportunity about three or four years ago,” Dudley added. “The site-based council hired me, but we just couldn’t get anything finalized. I think there were some issues with the superintendent at the time. I was willing to make a lot of sacrifices because I wanted to be around my grandkids and my family in Springfield, but it just didn’t work out. But (current WC head football) coach Mark Perry is doing a great job. I think a lot of him, he’s a good coach.”

Hilton returned to the area on Saturday to add win 321 to his resume. And as he was facing Washington County’s rival Marion County, it’s a sure bet that family, friends and fans from Washington County were rooting for their native son just a little harder as the Bobcats went head-to-head against the Knights.

Marion County took a 7-6 lead into half-time, but Hilton’s Bobcats roared for three straight touchdowns to pull ahead 26-7. Despite a late-game rally by the Knights to make the score 26-21, Bell County held on for win number 321 of Hilton’s career.

That served notice to Schneider, Haywood and the rest of the pack that Dudley Hilton isn’t ready to give up the chase just yet. Afterall, he’s got a 4A state title to defend.