Barrett's Bunch, RHS' 1st state championship footballers, to be honored
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

     The team which started a remarkable run for Russellville High School football will be honored 30 years later Friday. The 1980 Class A state champion Panthers were the first of four state finalists, three of them champions, during an 11-year span.
     Team members, coaches and cheerleaders along with their families and fans will start gathering in a tent belowe the playing field at 5 p.m., two hours before the 2010 Panthers play host to Butler County in the final regular season home game of the year. Like their predecessors of three decades ago, the current Panthers are district champions. And their final regular season home game is against the Butler Bears.
     In a preseason interview in August 1980, Coach Ken Barrett told me, “They are the hardest working team we’ve had, they have the most enthusiasm, and they’re the strongest. They’re my best bunch here.” From then on the Panthers became known as “Barrett’s Bunch.”
     Even though he coached two more state championship teams, had a 24-game win streak in 1983-84, has been named to various halls of fame, and has the football field named for him, Ken Barrett has never made any secret of what a special place this team holds in his heart. Not only were they his first state champions, but his son Keb was the quarterback.
     Now it’s difficult to comprehend the lack of success Russellville football had experienced during a long stretch in the 1970s. When the 1979 team went 7-6 and reached the state semifinals, it was the first winning season for RHS in nine years. There was optimism for this team, however, because of 1) the success of the ’79 team, 2) the return of several key players, and the team’s positive attitude. The 
presence of 16 seniors also made a difference. 
    The season began with a 20-13 win at Murray, but next the Panthers lost 20-0 to a Franklin-Simpson team that was the defending Class AAA state champion. F-S quarterback Joe Phillips-now the head coach at the University of Kentucky-ran for one touchdown, passed for a second, and set up the third on an 8-yard run on a fourth and seven. Coach James ‘Shadetree’ Matthews was building a dynasty in the adjoining county.
     The Panthers responded by whipping Clarksville Northeast 38-6 and Todd Central 46-0. It was only the second time the team had started 3-1 in the 10 years since Coach Jim Gladden’s 1970 team had reached the state semifinals. After the two blowouts,  RHS had risen to third in Class A in the Litratings, trailing only Owen County and defending state champion Bellevue.
     Fort Campbell handed the Panthers a lopsided loss and a reality check. Coach Marshall Patterson’s Fort Campbell Falcons, who were the defending Class AA state champions, led 38-0 before Bernard Bellamy scored the only RHS points on a 91-yard return of a fumble recovery.
     That was to be the last loss of the season for Barrett’s Bunch, and both of them had come to defending state champions under legendary coaches. Ken Barrett was beginning a new legend and dynasty in Pantherland.
     The first of nine straight wins came 51-20 over Crittenden County. Randy Smith, David McCormick and Bellamy each rushed for over 100 yards, and Keb Barrett passed for two touchdowns. The first district win was a 33-0 romp over Fulton City.
     As Queen Donna Robertson (Bryan) watched, the Panthers won 28-20 in homecoming  over Ballard Memorial. Among the alumni coming home to see remodeled Ray Stadium (new press box, metal seating, concrete ramps and improved lighting) were members of the 1949 and 1950 teams, which had combined for records of 19-1. Among them were two members of the 1980 coaching staff, Assistant Head Coach Howard Wren and Offensive Coordinator Buddy Linton.
     One of the closest games was against another former state champion, Trigg County. The Panthers won 14-7. Keb Barrett passed 22 yards to Tim Smith for one touchdown and Bellamy scored on a 4-yard run for the other. The two-point conversion came on a pass from Barrett to slotback Kevin Fruits. They were all seniors, as was another skilled player, Randy Smith. The regular season ended with a 28-3 win over Butler County.
     The first postseason game was at Tompkinsville. The first half was reminiscent of the scoreless tie in the 1969 regional finals, won by the Bears in overtime on a statistical tiebreaker.  The winning points came on a 33-yard field goal by Tim Smith. McCormick, a sophomore, scored the lone touchdown on a 15-yard run, and Smith kicked that extra point in a 10-0 win.
     Starters listed for that game included five who went both ways, all-staters Tommy Wilkins and Bellamy along with Greg Head, Keb Barrett and Fruits. Joining them were Eddie Hanks, Demosko Gordon, Michael Woods, Charles Hampton, Dickie Shifflett, Tim Williams, Randy Smith, Tim Smith, Brian Brown, Stewart Pillow, Jeff Smotherman and McCormick.
     A lot of other people saw extensive action, including seniors Thad ‘Fish’ Covington, Tim Allen, Scott Blythe, Robbie Camp, Stevie Farmer, Greg Wells, David Gray and Kelly Lee.
     The state semifinals were played in Owenton against the state’s top-ranked Class A team, Owen County. Covington did much of the quarterbacking when Barrett was injured. He and McCormick rushed for touchdowns. Head and  Fruits picked off interceptions. Tim Smith kicked four extra points in the 28-13 win that sent a Russellville football team to the state finals for the first time since 1966.
     On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28, the Panthers and hundreds-maybe thousands-of their fans found themselves at Cardinal Stadium  on the grounds of the Kentucky Fair and Exhibtiion Center. It was cold, snow-showery day, but the play of the Panthers warmed those in black and gold.
     Russellville beat the defending state champs 16-0 with Defensive Coordinator Gwynne Gaddie’s defense pitching a shutout on the big stage. Bellamy ran for 84 yards, Randy Smith 73 and McCormick 58. Barrett completed 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards. Five of those receptions, including a touchdown, were pulled in by Fruits. Tim Smith kicked a 32-yard field goal. Head and Randy Smith recovered fumbles.
     Captains Bernard Bellamy and Tom Wilkins, who were the team’s most honored players, accepted the state championship trophy.
     Denver Bell was a member of the coaching staff. Junior high coaches who helped out on the sidelines were Korlin Harrison, Steve Meredith and Ted Zikeli.
     Among the cheerleaders were Kelly and Shelly Smith (Tim’s twin sisters), Robin Foster, Sally Boyd, Debbie Campbell, Sharlene Carnell, and Gina Ralls. They all plan to attend Friday’s festivities.
     Veronica Johnson, who is helping coordinate activities, notes: “There are four team members who have passed on and they will be mentioned. They are Robbie Camp, Kevin Katz, David McCormick, and Scott Williamson.”
     Wayne Mullen was athletic director and the late Wallace Mason was principal. The late Granville Clark and Jerry Estes handled public address duties. Lon Sosh and the late Pat O’Brien were the radio broadcasters. Kevin McKenzie joined me in reporting the action and features in print.
     The Logan Journal has pictures of the 1980 team in action for sale on its Logan and Beyond website in the For Sale section. The link is

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