Monday, September 10, 2001

Cawood Ledford laid to rest in Harlan




The Associated Press

        HARLAN, Ky. — Cawood Ledford was the voice of the Wildcats for people across Kentucky. But in his hometown in eastern Kentucky, he served a more inspiring role.

        Ledford was the example teachers pointed to when telling poor children in the coal-mining region that they can be successful.

        “The children knew Cawood Ledford better than they knew their own principals,” said Gayle Lawson, a retired teacher from Harlan. “They listened to him more.”

        The high profile of a UK sportscaster who grew up in the same rugged mountains made him ideal for the job.

        Ledford died early Wednesday after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 75.

        Under a cloudless big blue sky, the sportscasting icon was buried Sunday afternoon in the family cemetery at Cawood.

        The son of a coal miner, Ledford was born April 24, 1926, and grew up in Harlan. He attended tiny Hall High School. After serving in the Marines during World War II and earning a degree from Centre College in Danville, he returned to Hall to teach English.

        By 1951, he was announcing high school football and basketball games for WHLN in Harlan. He moved to Lexington two years later and began calling UK football and basketball games. That was the start of a 39-year stint as the voice of the Wildcats, a position that raised him to first-name status with Kentucky sports fans.

        He retired after the 1991-92 basketball season.

        While people filed into the Mount Pleasant Funeral Home, Dewey Sizemore was cleaning the parking lot at the local McDonald's restaurant, thinking of Ledford and hoping for better days ahead.

        Sizemore, 25, a husband and a father who supports his family on minimum wage, dropped out of college to help take care of his mother. Now, he said he wants to go back to pursue a career in journalism.

        Ledford will be his encouragement.

        “He's proof we can reach our goals,” Sizemore said.

        Lawson said she had often pointed to Ledford to show her students that poor kids from Appalachia can be successful in any field if they work hard.

        “Perseverance is the secret to success for everyone,” Lawson said. “That was the secret to Cawood's success.”

        Hundreds of relatives and friends filed into the funeral home for the first of two memorial services. The next will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The one in Harlan was done without a eulogy to explain Ledford's accomplishments. The Rev. Ed Bradley, who preached at the funeral, said Ledford's life speaks for itself.

        “He was such a legendary figure, but he was so down to earth,” said Kyle Macy, coach at Morehead State University and a former UK basketball player who attended the funeral. “It's hard to imagine that he's gone.”

        In 1994, Ledford was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame and remains one of only four broadcasters in it.

        Despite his status within college basketball, Ledford also was known as a horse racing broadcaster, calling the Kentucky Derby more than 15 times for CBS Radio.

        His broadcast of Northern Dancer's thrilling stretch win over Hill Rise in the 1964 Derby is considered one of the great calls in American horse racing history.

        Throughout his career, he also broadcast from the World Series, The Masters and the heavyweight boxing championship, which included coverage of Muhammad Ali.

        “His life does inspire young people,” said Reecie Staglonia, a retired school superintendent in Harlan. “To us, he was the greatest sports announcer who ever lived.”

       More Cawood Ledford coverage at Courier-Journal.com



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