Matt Tipton affected countless lives during his 45 years in Russellville
By Jim Turner

Posted on March 3, 2017 6:49 PM

My long-time friend, colleague and traveling companion Matt Tipton will be laid to rest this weekend. I will miss him. In fact, I’ve missed him since this mystery ailment took him away from reality over three months ago.

Although we were about the same age, Matt came to teach and coach at Russellville High School in my fifth year on the job at my alma mater. It wasn’t until recently I learned that his graduation from college had been delayed by service in Vietnam. During all the time we spent together, he never mentioned being a veteran.

That’s who he was. He not only never bragged about his accomplishments, he never focused his conversations on himself. They were always about his players, his team, his family, his teaching, or the classes he was taking while working on advanced degrees.

He had a nickname for everyone. If I was an educator at the time, he would call me ‘Professor.” If I was in my role as an editor, I was always ‘Executive.”

For a few summers, Matt, Mickey Meguiar and I rode together to Western to take graduate classes together while we were working on our masters degrees and our Rank I’s. Yes, I got to ride in his famed Dodge Dart long before it became a collector’s item.

Matt and I talked on the phone often, sometimes two or three times a week. He always called me, though. I’d guess we had been friends for about 20 years before he shared his unlisted phone number with me. He was indeed a private person.

One of his phone calls is a special memory. I was at home one night and had just gotten off the phone with a Congressman who was threatening to sue me for something I had written about him. That doesn’t happen on a daily basis, and I must have been a little shaken, since when the phone rang immediately afterwards and the caller started talking, I said, “Who is this?”

“What do you mean who is this?” he grumbled. Matthew Tipton had—to say the least—a distinctive voice. I always thought if he got to be coach of a professional sports team, I could go along as his spokesperson, since I always understood what he was saying, except on that particular night.

My favorite Matt Tipton story: In the spring of 1973, he didn’t have a coaching assignment. Turned out that I had to have gall bladder surgery in those days before the advent of laser surgery. So I was sliced open from neck to belly button and was going to be out of commission for a few weeks. Principal Don Turner assigned Matthew to be interim coach of the boys and girls tennis teams until I could take them back.

“I don’t know anything about tennis, but I know whatever sport you play you’ve got to be in shape,” Coach Tipton reasoned. Now anyone can look at me and tell that conditioning is not a priority with me.

It was cool weather, so he conditioned them that first day in the Stevenson Elementary School gym. It must have been grueling. My number one player, Cecil Duncan, was lying face down on the slick floor when it was over, reportedly with smoke coming out his ears. “Someone slide me my racket,” he moaned without moving.

That night, 11 of my 12 players came to old Logan County Hospital to see me, but it wasn’t to inquire about my heath. They were there to complain about ‘conditioning.” The 12th player sent her mother. “Nancy’s home soaking in the bathtub and crying,” Mary Jane Smith told me.

Fortunately for my tennis teams, the next spring Matt became coach of Lady Panther track, a position he held for over 40 years. He coached a number of state champions and at least one of his teams was state runner-up. I wonder where he ranks in Kentucky sports history in years of coaching one program continuously. I genuinely believe there was not a better relay coach in the state, female or male, high school or college.

A couple of years later he became the first coach of Lady Panther basketball after offering the sport for girls was mandated by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. He served in that role until the early 90s; He was a member of the football coaching staff for many years and later became the Game Director. He was a part of the first group of coaches inducted into the Russellville Alumni Association Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

Matt Tipton also affected many non-athletes in the classroom. He hardly ever taught honor students. Instead he worked with those who needed special attention. For several years he taught a course called “World of Work,” which helped prepare them for adult life.

One of his last roles was serving as assistant principal of Stevenson Elementary School.

Funeral services for Matt Tipton will be held this Saturday at 1 p.m. at deGraffenried Auditorium on the campus of Russellville High School. Visitation will be held at the same location Friday until 8 p.m.

How popular and respected was Matt Tipton? Usually if a post on Facebook referring to a story on The Logan Journal gets over 2,000 responses, it ranks among the most popular ever. A post is rarely shared more than five times. Our mention of Matt’s death drew 27,794 responses and has been shared an amazing 286 times.

Here are some of the comments we received:

Diane Gilliam Walker:  His spirit was with the Lady Panthers tonight. He would have been extremely proud of their defense. (He died shortly before the Lady Panthers beat Logan County in the district tournament.)

Donna Brown Wilkinson:In the South, it's not unusual to hear "ma'am" or "sir," but here in Kentucky there is an even greater title of respect: "coach." Although none of my children had the privilege of playing a sport for him, he was always Coach Tipton to us - and to everyone else in Panther country. As a vice-principal, you could see that it was his heart for kids that sustained him. He was one of the first people I met after moving here ten years ago, and I am deeply saddened that I will never again see that familiar face navigating the streets of Russellville from behind the steering wheel of that 1960-something Dodge Dart that was as much a part of him as his towering stature and the deep Delta drawl that he retained decades after leaving his hometown in west Tennessee.

Tina Crowder Walker: He always called me "Superstar." I believe he knew in his soul I needed to hear that because it's not at all what I thought of myself. All the memories I have of him are good and Godly. He even went as far as to come to my home to check on me when I was going through a lot and my parents were going through a divorce.

Katie Jane Cartmell:  I had the world’s greatest pleasure of caring for Coach Tipton may he Rest In Peace. And, my God, bring healing to the pain that this bares on family and friends. His family has had a world’s greatest impact on lots of people, including my family! It was a great pleasure to have been able to help him.

Greg OwensCoach Tipton came to Russellville in the summer of 1972 driving that same white Dodge he drove away in his last year in 2015. He was our assistant boys basketball coach and our pick-up games were legendary. He did not call you by your name. You were either "Cupcake" or "Biscuit..” 

Jerry Allen: Strongest handshake I ever saw.

Nikki Deen Blackburn: Sweetest man I ever saw!

Tremain Covington: Love this man!

Damien Gilbert: Coach Tipton going to miss you saying hey guy

Don Menser: Great teacher and coach but an even better man. RIP, "Superstar"!

Sally Boyd Rhea: He always had a SMILE on his face and made everyone he spoke to feel like they were important.

Tim Smith:Great Man, Great Coach, we need more Coach Tiptons in our school systems and in the world.

Damien Gilbert: Coach Tipton going to miss you saying, “Hey, guy!”

Daniel Nealy: RIP, Superstar

Erica Skipworth: Amazing man

P.J. Ramsey: Oh, how many times I heard this man say, “Drop down and give me 20.

Allison Baker:He was interested in us each time we saw him, long after we'd left RHS. We are so sad to lose him.

Damaris Smith: A very good man. Never would he let you give up, always pushed me to strive and be the best. 

Beverly Blackwell York: As I sit reading all the wonderful things his students, athletes, co-workers write, I hope and pray he knew how respected, loved and admired he was. He was one of the greatest men I ever met. I remember him walking in the door of the church the day of my momma’s funeral and how it made me and Eric Blackwell feel to know he cared so much. Not as just a previous teacher but as a true friend. Never did I see him anywhere that he didn't speak and pick on me. My heart breaks tonight not just for my loss of a friend and mentor but for Connie, Bethany Tipton Childs and Medina. Losing a husband and father is never easy but losing one like him.. there are no words. 

Janice K. MoyerHe was a great coach. Proud to be on the first girls team for Russellville.

Libby Haines ZuegeSuch a great influence on me as a person and player.

Laura Nealy Burks: Running cross country in p.e... as I slowly limped by, heaving and panting, he would chortle, "Come on, Superstar!" Not sure which one of us was laughing the most!

Robert Ballance: Good man. A help to all he was around. He will be missed.

Jon Davis:: Great man. Nearly would squeeze your fingers off when he shook your hand. 

Sheila J. Ryan:  I had him for study hall many years ago. He called me "Johnson " . And he called it often. ..seemed like I was always getting into trouble. He had such a loving spirit. He was one of my favorites.

Matt Tipton is shown in the photo of the 1973 Russellville football team at back right. From left, on the front row, are the late Coach Buddy Linton, the late Jerry Lee, David Settle, the late Kelly Russell, Lem Palmer, John Morgan and the late Terry Parrish; back row, the late Coach Wayne Shewmaker, Mark Wilson, Kenny Hancock, Mark Hall, Steve Friedel, Mike Wilson, Alan Hall, the late Matt Tipton, Steve Williamson and coaches David Phillips and Ronnie Fuqua.



Copyright © The Logan Journal 2009 - 2023