Birdwhistell honored, roasted, denied at Lewisburg Alumni Banquet
By Jim Turner


Posted on May 26, 2014 8:44 PM



During a most special evening in the Coon Range during which the legendary Coach Bob Birdwhistell was honored and adored, the highlight of the program came at the very end when Birdwhistell got his “come-uppance.”

The occasion was the annual Lewisburg School Alumni Banquet, held at the school gymnasium Saturday. Birdwhistell, who taught at LHS for 20 years from 1962-82 and served as its boys basketball coach 14 of them, was the guest of honor.

Birdwhistell is not only renowned for his coaching and administrative abilities but also for his razor-sharp tongue. Look up the words grouchy and cantankerous in the dictionary, and you’ll likely find a likeness of Bob Birdwhistell pictured there.

On this night, though, Birdwhistell, who has suffered from a number of illnesses lately as has his genteel wife Donna, was humbly gracious and grateful. He told the gym-full of attendees that he has never been one to express affection. “I came here as a skinny, smart-aleck 22-year-old and I’ve been hard-headed and meaner than hell,” he admitted. “Today, I’ve hugged a lot of guys and told them I love them. That’s totally foreign to me.”

He said that 13 of his players are no longer living, and he wishes he had told them he loved them in advance.

He said he especially wanted to apologize to one group—the former cheerleaders. He said he had cussed cheerleaders, told them they were useless and told them to “be quiet on this bus” and to “get off my basketball floor.”

“I told the players, ‘I can run the beer out of you, I can run the cigarettes out of you, but I can’t run the cheerleaders out of you,” he said. “Now I want to ask you cheerleaders to forgive me.”

Over two hours later as the program came to an end, Alice Lynn Forgy Kerr, who is running for her fifth consecutive term as state senator from Lexington, came to the podium to lead the group in singing the alma mater. She had something to say first.

“I’m accustomed to dealing with lobbyists in Frankfort and to resisting what they’re trying to get done,” she said. “Tonight I found 23 former cheerleaders in this audience and surveyed them. We have decided to deny your request for forgiveness.”

Even Bob Birdwhistell didn’t have an answer to that.

Speakers, including alumni Neal Webb, Barry Silvey, George Cole and Steve Pitt, told stories about his coaching style in practice, in the dressing room and on the playing floor. Usually colorful language and surly threats were involved.

Silvey noted when the late Robert Piper hired the Franklin native to coach at Lewisburg, he told him that his job would probably only last a couple of years because consolidation of the schools would happen soon. Of course, it didn’t happen for 20 more years. When Piper asked Birdwhistell if he had any questions after he hired him, ‘Bird’ only had one: “How do I get to Lewisburg?”

He found his way and never left. Bob and Donna Birdwhistell have lived in North Logan for 52 years. They raised their three children there. All three were present Saturday. Jane, who teaches at Lewisburg, was with her husband Billy Wells and son Taylor. Susan was with her husband Mike Ezell; they live on the Ezell family farm near South Union. Joe, a postal worker in Warren County, was accompanied by son Kevin and daughter Erin.

It was grudgingly admitted by speakers that Birdwhistell coached his 1971 and 1976 teams to district championships, and that the last team his Rangers lost to, Edmonson County, went on to win the state championship. He was also the athletic director when Logan County High School won the state boys basketball championship in 1984.

He retired as principal of LCHS in the early 90s, worked as a probation and parole officer, and then spent six years as assistant principal at Chandlers Elementary School, working under one of his favorite former players, Silvey.

The Alumni officers—Vickie Laster Costello, Sheila Harrison Groves, Nancy Webb Eggleston, and Webb—presented him a couple of scrapbooks with a collection of stories, pictures and scorebook pages from his days as the Ranger coach. The officers were reelected by acclamation.

Entertainment was provided during the meal catered by Colonial Inn and at intermission by The Bluegrass Boys, consisting of Silvey, Cole, Travis Stuart, Steve Metzger and Dusty Oliver. They were joined for a couple of songs by a local singing group, the Schoolhouse Seven. Gerald Hildabrand says the membership changes according to whoever can be there, but on this night they were Pete Lehman, Lawrence and Rebecca McGehee, Phyllis Dukes, Robert Gibbs, Costello and Hildabrand.

The featured speaker was Louisville attorney Steve Pitt, representing the LHS Class of 1964, which was celebrating its golden anniversary. He talked about the importance of staying busy, spiritual and helpful as we age.

He quoted Joshua, King David and Jesus from the Bible and Joe Nuxhall from the Cincinnati Reds, saying many of those gathered that like Nuxie—“the Old Lefthander”—find themselves  “rounding third and heading for home.”

Pitt’s sister, Sherri Pitt Brady, also spoke about their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Marion Price Pitt, and other long-time late leaders of Lewisburg. She read a touching poem, “The Ice Cream Chair,” about what was to become Gower Drug Store. She is married to one of Birdwhistell’s former players and coaching associates, John Paul Brady.

Three Logan County High School seniors with Lewisburg backgrounds were presented scholarships. They were as follows:

Monica Nolan, daughter of Ray and Kim Nolan, received the Bess & Ernest Williams Scholarship. One of the Williamses’ daughters, Tina Duncan, was present.

Marah Harris¸ daughter of Bryan and Sherry Harris, received the Russell Porter Memorial Scholarship. His brother, H.D. Porter, is believed to have been the oldest alumnus present as a member of the Class of 1940.

Hannah Statton, daughter of Chris and Lisa Statton, received the Lewisburg Alumni Scholarship. It was presented by Lehman.

The John F. Stovall Math Award will be presented at the LCHS graduation. Major Stovall was one of five members of the new Lewisburg Leaders Hall of Fame who was present at the Alumni Banquet. Others there were Hattie Ruth Shelton, Joe Milam, Neal Webb and Alice Forgy Kerr, who was accompanied by her husband, Randy Lutke. (See stories about the Hall of Fame in October 2013 Feature Articles on The Logan Journal.)

The evening was almost perfect. It would have been if those (darn) cheerleaders had been more forgiving.

 




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