Earl Cox On Sports

Print  There I was, a country boy surrounded by high school basketball royalty.

_ On one side was J.W. "Spider" Thurman, a great athlete himself and the coach who spawned the Clay County dynasty that produced Bobby Keith and Richie Farmer their state championship. Thurman, who was the first All-American football player at what is now Eastern Kentucky University, was prevented from playing in the State Tournament himself when a meningitis outbreak kept his Benham team from traveling outside Harlan County.

_ At Spider's side was another great coach and player, Jack Fultz of Olive Hill, who immortalized his high school with a splendid book, "The Comets' Tail." Fultz both played and coached in the Sweet Sixteen.


Giant? What giant?

Jack has a great story about Harlan and its "giant," Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones. "All year long, all we had heard about was this great player at Harlan who was a giant," said Fultz. "We drew them in the State Tournament and were scared to death. Then when Wah and I got ready to jump center, I was as big as he was!"

_ Across from Spider and Jack was Fairce Woods, who is one of the great players, coaches and stories in Kentucky basketball history. He played at Garrett in Floyd County and at Kentucky Wesleyan, then barnstormed the state with UK's Fabulous Five after the Wildcats has won the NCAA championship and Olympic gold medal and then a second straight NCAA title.

"The only time I got to play was when one of the Fabulous Five got tired," said Woods.


Woods and Breathitt

Woods, who stood about 5 foot 4 or 5-5, coached one year at Mount Olivet Deming ( a school with fewer than 100 students) and then went to Breathitt County, where he became a legend. He turned the Bobcats into a state power and broke up what had been a region ruled by Hazard, Carr Creek and Hindman - all of which won state titles. Fairce was president of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's Board of Control after he became a principal. Breathitt's gym is the "Fairce O. Woods Coliseum."

_ Johnny Ginn, a valuable KHSAA employee, showed up with a game story I had written for The Lexington Herald when he played for Great Crossing against Wilmore, which had a real giant, Tuck Cooley.


A spider named Spider

_ Billy Wise, the retired commissioner of the KHSAA, got us together at Lexington's Marriott hotel, and we were the guests of Bob Roberts, a Richmond insurance executive who is a great supporter of the KHSAA. Billy played for Stamping Ground and Bob was one of Spider's boys at Clay County.

As long as I have known Spider, I never thought to ask how he got his nickname. He said he was bitten by a spider while in the second grade at Benham and wore an eye patch to cover the wound. "The kids started calling me Spider and it stuck."

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