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Golden Glory

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WHEN CENTRAL CITY HIGH SCHOOL closed its doors in 1990, its boys’ basketball teams had won more games than any school in Kentucky, and it had the second-most wins among all high schools in the United States. From the early 1920s, when records were first kept, thru to 1990, Golden Tide teams won 1,578 games and lost 588 for a 72.9 winning percentage. There were 17 30-win seasons (still the most among Kentucky schools), 51 20-win seasons and 17
trips to the state tournament.

Those are remarkable numbers by any set of standards. But how was this small school, which rarely had more than 50 students in a class, able to sustain such long-term excellence? Why did Central City continue to perform at the highest levels while other schools soared high for a few years and then fell into obscurity? What was the secret behind this school’s winning ways on the basketball court? What was the genesis of the Golden Tide’s great tradition?

The answer is two-fold. First, from 1925, when George Taylor arrived on the scene, until the final whistle blew in 1990, only six men served as head coach. is continuity of coaches played a key role in the Golden Tide’s success. Taylor, the father of Central City basketball and the founder of its great tradition, established a standard of excellence that his successors were challenged to match. And to a man, they all succeeded.

Second, no basketball team can be successful unless it has talent, and down through the years Central City certainly had more than its share of superb players. The two towering figures in Golden Tide history are Bernard “Peck” Hickman, who would go on to become the Hall of Fame coach at the University of Louisville, and the legendary Corky Withrow, a first-team All-America selection who is still regarded as the greatest player in Central City and Muhlenberg County history.

Beyond those two there were dozens of other players whose on-court exploits helped the Golden Tide rack up victories year after year, decade after decade. Some were supremely gifted athletes, some were tough in-your-face players, while others succeeded by effort, intensity and sheer force of will. Regardless of the talent level, each of them wore the Golden Tide uniform with great pride.

Those wins didn’t come cheap or easy. The Golden Tide consistently squared off against the best teams and a Who’s Who of talented individual opponents, including such giants as Wah Wah Jones, Ralph Beard, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, Don Mills, Harry Todd, Butch Beard, Tom Payne, Rex Chapman and “King” Kelly Coleman. And that’s not even counting the many Muhlenberg County foes Golden Tide teams had to deal with, a lengthy list headed by Greenville’s great Roger Newman.

In Golden Glory, Tom Wallace, an award-winning sportswriter and Central City native, gives us an in-depth look at the magnificent Golden Tide history. Through success on the basketball court drives the narrative, at the heart of this book are the individuals—players, coaches and opponents—who bring the story to life. By combining facts, legends and tall tales, Wallace takes us behind the scenes of a storied basketball program that thrived during an era that, sadly, no longer exists.

Related: Basketball

Related: High School