1983 state champion Panthers to be honored at RHS game Friday
By Jim Turner

Posted on October 12, 2023 6:55 PM


One of the highlights of the joint Russellville school alumni gathering and an important district football game for the Panthers Friday night will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of RHS winning the state football championship in 1983. The players, cheerleaders and coaches on that great team will be invited to come down to Ken Barrett Field from their seats in Rhea Stadium to be honored.

This team was also honored on its 30th anniversary 10 years ago. I wrote their story for a column on The LoJo in 2013. Since nothing that happened that season has changed in the last decade, here’s a repeated look at that special year:

During halftime of the game, which is being played during the Tobacco and Heritage Festival, Russellville High School will honor a special group of alumni, the members of the 1983 Class A state champion football Panthers and their support team.

Considered by many as perhaps the greatest RHS football team ever and certainly the greatest in the last 45 years or so, the 1983 version of Barrett’s Bunch set some remarkable records on the way to their second state championship while they were at RHS. Consider this:

*The team they beat in the state championship game, the Cumberland Redskins, had lost only one game in the past two seasons, and that was in the state finals the year before. Russellville won that game 42-13 at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.

*Three of their four wins in the playoffs came against previously undefeated teams.

*In the semifinals, they not only beat two-time defending state champion Paris 19-7, but they also ended the Greyhounds’ national beat 38-game winning streak.

*The Panthers’ 13 wins were a school record that still stands today after 77 and a half seasons of RHS football. The only team that can better than record is also on the field today, the undefeated 2013 Panthers.

*They beat the Edmonson County Wildcats 42-0 in the regional championship game.

*They ended a 10-year drought against Fort Campbell, knocking off the Falcons, who were ranked first in the state, in the district championship game. Barrett’s Bunch not only beat Fort Campbell, they did by a 42-13 count.

*They not only won 12 straight games but many of the players returned to run that streak to 24 the following year.

*Coach Ken Barrett was named state coach of the year not only in Class A but for the entire state in any class. He was assisted in reaching that status by coaches Howard Wren, Buddy Linton, Korlin Harrison, Steve Merideth, Lou Kendall and Ted Zikeli. The turf on which these honorees stand today is named Ken Barrett Field.

*Senior halfback Jonathan Cage became the first Panther to be an Associated Press first-team All-Stater since Jimmy Sanford in 1950. Cage ran for 1,281 yards, scored 18 touchdowns, recorded 149 tackles including 89 solos, and intercepted 4 passes.

*Senior Oscar York was second team all-state. He had 100 tackles and caught 13 passes on a run-oriented team.

*These Panthers won the Western Kentucky Conference championship for the fourth time in five years. Named All-WKC besides Cage and York were quarterback Andy Woodall, wideout Bryan Wilkins, tackles Terry Dilliha and Eric Coker, center Jesse Woolridge, kicker Sonny Green and defenders Clay Parrish, Al Smith, Rodney Gordon, Brent Wilkins and Brian Fruits.

So this is indeed a special group which will be honored this weekend. All of Russellville says thank you to the 1983 Panthers for the memories and for a job well done.


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