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Willard Smith remembers 1964 just like it was yesterday. It also goes down as a quite memorable year for the native of Cane Valley who has lived much of his life in Campbellsville.
“It was a good bunch of guys, and it was competitive, but we had a lot of fun,” Smith said recently of the Campbellsville Cokes’ championship in the Bourbon League.
The Cokes were a local independent baseball team and played in the Bourbon League against teams from Elizabethtown, Bardstown, Greensburg, Columbia and Hodgenville.
Despite losing in the state finals (3-2) that year, Elwood Johnson of the Cokes was tabbed the tournament Most Valuable Player.
“He reminded me of the (Cincinnati) Reds’ Billy Hamilton,” Smith said recently. “He was a Durham High graduate, a great athlete and he could really play.
“He, and I and (twin brother) Wayne worked out a lot together,” Smith continued. “I was really disappointed when he told me he was going to stop playing.”
Johnson went on to coach Shawnee High School in Louisville and Kentucky State University.
The Smith brothers left Adair County High School for Western Kentucky University where they were stand-out baseball players with their “buddy” Jim Richards for fellow Adair Countian Ed Diddle with the Hilltoppers.
Later on the Smiths were two of the better collegiate basketball officials in the country while Richards was an assistant under Johnny Oldham and later the head coach at WKU.
Not only did the competitive Smith remember those baseball “glory” days happening in 1964, it was the year of the birth of his daughter (Suzanne Sandidge, who would later be joined by brother Scott), but also the origination of the Duffers’ golf tournament which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in August.
“We had just got finished playing baseball that summer and myself, Wayne and Harold Wilkerson plus Lowell Yankey were out playing golf and that’s where the idea came from to start something like the Duffers.
“The first one (which would have been in 1965), was with 12 players at Lebanon Country Club and we played 27 holes (on the 9-hole course).”
Wilkerson, who Smith called a stand-out second baseman, has been a dentist on West Main Street for many years.
The Cokes’ team consisted almost entirely of local players with a few exceptions.
Some of those players would have ties on future local squads:
• George Ray Lynch went on to coach Campbellsville High School to the Fifth Region baseball championship in 1971.
• Gary Hash and Johnnie Pierce each had grandsons on this year’s Campbellsville High School Eagle baseball team.
Willard Smith said a lot of other “local” folks played for the Campbellsville Cokes at one time or another, but not on the Bourbon League champions.
He did mention several names, hoping not to leave anyone out — Dickie Coop, Donnie Gorin, Jerry Parker, Lanny Parrott, Sparkie Taylor, Manuel Gowdy, Johnny Hayes, Eugene McMahan and Bobby McMahan.