Former superintendent recalls tougher times at Rhea Stadium
By Roger Cook

Posted on November 16, 2014 9:22 PM

Former Russellville Superintendent Roger Cook is now superintendent of the Taylor County Schools. Campbellsville is the county seat of Taylor County.

I sat this cold Sunday morning and read every single article of the series about the history of Rhea Stadium on The Logan Journal. Well written and entertaining history of a great football tradition. Being a head football coach for 15 years myself, I really enjoy reading about football and its history.

My career coaching began at my alma mater, Campbellsville High School, and I personally ran into two of those great teams you wrote about during my playing and coaching career. I along with Leon Smith, an All-State player from Campbellsville and your current superintendent, came to Russellville in 1970. I was a starting offensive and defensive tackle, and Leon, our team captain, was a starting center and defensive end.

I remember as we pulled up in front of that old stadium we country boys thought we were playing at a college field or something. None of us knew or admitted it at the time, but I think we were intimidated right then and there. We had only lost one game that year and to win the district and advance to the playoffs our team beat the Tompkinsville team that started what was to eventually produce three professional players, Elois Grooms, Johnny Bushong and Bobby Hamilton.

After arriving and dressing in that old gymnasium that I tore down many years later, Russellville beat us pretty handily that night. Then as coach at Campbellsville I brought another 10-1 team to Russellville in 1979 and played in a monsoon game and lost to you guys again. I learned a valuable lesson that night. When the field is muddy and the conditions deplorable, don't elect to receive to start the game. We won the toss and elected to receive. You guys kicked off to us and our return man took two steps on about our ten yard line and fell flat on his face in the mud. We didn't get out of our end zone the whole first half.

We were so happy to kick off to begin the second half (or so we thought) as we just knew Coach Barrett would elect to receive, but he out-coached us and elected to kick off instead. Of course, he would after seeing what had happened to us the first half. I never made that coaching mistake again. 

I laugh as I remember interviewing for the Russellville Superintendent’s position. The first question from then chairman and now my good friend Mr. James Milam was “tell us about your background.” My first comment to the board during that interview was and I quote, "I have nothing but negative thoughts about Russellville in my head sitting here for tonight's interview." You should of seen the look on their faces right after I said that.

Of course, I went on to explain the beatings you guys gave me as a player and coach and as I did they began to smile. I knew I had the job right then and there. During my tenure as superintendent, I used to drive by Rhea Stadium and just shake my head, remembering that I played my last high school football game on that field. Believe it or not, I became a little emotional the day they started tearing down that old gymnasium where we sat on the stage to have our ankles taped.

Whoever thought my all-time best friend Leon Smith and I would become the superintendent at the place where we played our last high school football game?

Campbellsville has a nice football tradition as well but doesn't come close to matching the history and tradition of Russellville. I am also glad I was able as Russellville's superintendent to be the one responsible for getting that dang intimidating stadium wall straightened up. Ha!

Thanks for sharing the articles; they were great reads, I was blessed to have met some of the names written about in the articles. Namely Howard Wren, the great Larry Johnson, General Humble and, of course, I knew Hall of Fame Coach Ken Barrett many years ago.

I enjoyed my four years I had in Russellville and all the great people from that city. I loved it so much if it hadn't been for the opportunity to come back to my hometown and be near my grandchildren I would probably still be there. At least I am glad my best friend Leon Smith is there. Leon is a great superintendent and a better man.


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