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The start of something special

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By Ken Begley

It’s very hard to predict things, especially the future.

                                                                      Yogi Berra

Did you see that slugfest last Friday between the Washington County and Marion County High School football teams? Who would have thought that WCHS would go over to Marion County on its homecoming night, during Ham Days, and hand them their football heads on a platter? If you missed it, then you better go back to the sports pages and read Jimmie Earls’ account right now.

In addition, who on God’s beautiful, green Earth would have thought that the WCHS Commander football team would be 5-0 in the first part of their 2010 season, especially after playing out of their league, class 5A Lincoln County and class 4A Marion County, to Washington County’s class 2A team?

Well, believe it or not, I know one guy that did, and he predicted it a year and a half ago.

It was Larry Smith.

Larry Smith is a local sports legend. He played football during WCHS’s heyday some 30 years ago. He went on to play in the rarified air of college football at UK, and actually played some pro football. It’s funny, but his name is not easily forgotten by those that watched or played against him, even after all this time.

I was at a dinner with a bunch of my friends in the army in Louisville a few years back. I got to talking about a Little League team that was going on to the state championships. I mentioned that Larry Smith was coaching it. All of a sudden this major jumped up in a fit of pride, pointed his finger down in my face and said, “You tell Larry Smith I was on that Bardstown team that stopped WCHS from going to the state championships.” Then he smiled and asked about Larry. You could tell his football days still gave him a warm glow from the memories, and Larry was such a standout player that it was with great pride he could say he played against him.

Yep, that’s pretty much who Larry is.

I’ve seen stuff happen like that more than once. His reputation lives on.

Larry’s a very quiet man. But still waters run deep, and Larry knows his favorite sport of football inside and out.

I probably only talk to Larry once or twice a year, and that’s to say “hello” in passing. But sometime in the spring of 2009, we got into a conversation on WCHS football. I don’t know anything about sports, but I did know the WCHS program did not seem to be faring very well at all at the time. That made Larry’s prediction seem all the more startling.

Larry said he thought Washington County had the ability to go to the state championship game in a couple of years.

No joke.

That took my breath away.

I may be stupid in sports, but even I knew WCHS had never been there before, at least not in my memory. Coming from a guy that knew the game, played the game, and wasn’t subject to any sort of emotional outbursts gave the prediction all the more weight.

I asked Larry why he thought that. He had a few reasons.

Larry told me that few people understood how complicated football really is. He said people think you just go out and knock heads together, but it’s not like that at all. Larry said the game was so complicated that only a few coaches really know how to master it. So, if you happen to get a coach that does, then there are possibilities. Larry then said that WCHS coach Mark Perry really knows the game, and was one of the best coaches he had ever seen. This comment came from a cool, critical eye for football during a time when the WCHS program seemed to everyone else to be struggling.

Larry then told me there was a lot of talent coming down the pike. He mentioned a few names, but basically seemed to indicate that one or two great players couldn’t get you to state. It had to be a deep bench of above-average players all working together. It had to be a team. Larry thought they had one brewing.

In short, Larry could see a confluence of events coming together that might only happen once in 20 or 30 years.

I talked with a couple of other coaches and observers of the game right after Larry made his informal prediction to me. Nobody else believed it possible.

I know it’s early in the season. I know there’s a long way to go. I know anything could happen. But seeing is believing, and WCHS has not only a 5-0 record, but they’ve now played some real teams and left coaches and players staggering, shell-shocked by the sidelines.

I end this column by saying, “What if Larry’s right?”

His actual prediction to me was for a 2011 championship run. What if he was off and it happens this year?

I know what the result will be.

If these young men can keep pulling together, then 30 years from now people will still be talking about this Cinderella team going to the big dance. More importantly, these players will get a warm glow and feel of friendship that will last a lifetime when they remember these days, and their teammates. It’s a feeling that only comes from a hard- fought campaign against overwhelming odds and accomplishing what few people thought possible as a team.

That’s truly priceless.