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Keven Moore: Looking back on magical time, terrific memories at 35th Lafayette High School reunion

1979 Lafayette High School yearbook

1979 Lafayette High School yearbook

October 15th marked the first day of High School basketball practice in the state of Kentucky.

It also marked the day some 38 years earlier when 12 young men — arguably one of the best High School teams in the history of Kentucky — laced up their sneakers to pursue the coveted Kentucky State Championship, led by Jock Sutherland one of the most colorful coaches ever to wear a whistle in the Bluegrass.

For me the day started off with an impromptu Class 1981 35th reunion Keeneland-Tailgate after a couple of classmates andI helped put together the event, where some 60-70 people gathered together to reconnect and reminisce about the glory days we all experienced. Many of us had heard about the documentary on Lafayette’s journey to the 1979 boys’ Sweet Sixteen championship, titled “Jock’s Jailhouse Junk.” It was to premiere that Saturday evening in Lafayette’s Beeler Auditorium, but several of us were on the fence about going.

Realizing what a special era we had experienced firsthand, my wife and I decided to go as a show support to Kurt Rose, one of the players on the team. Today our sons are best friends. I was able to convince another 10-12 classmates to show up. Boy did it send us all back to a magical time period.

Yes, magical . . .

Yes, magical . . .

This team was touted as one of the best in the state with Dirk Minniefield leading the charge, but when Junior Johnson moved back home to Lexington to transfer in, they became one of the top two or three teams in the country.

Dirk Minniefield was the John Wall of his era and very charismatic. He and Isaiah Thomas were the two most sought after point guards in the country, both earning 1st team McDonald All American status. He ended up winning Mr. Basketball in the state and then later opted to take his talents down the street to become one of University of Kentucky all-time greats before moving on to the NBA.

As a high school sophomore that year at one of the largest schools in the state, I didn’t realize what a magical time period it would be. To start the school year one of our legendary alums John Y Brown (KY Fried Chicken CEO) was gearing up for his Governor race, and everywhere you looked legends were walking our school hallways.

Given the talent level of the basketball team it was not uncommon to bump into Dean Smith, Joe B. Hall and several other top collegiate coaches on your way to the bathroom with your hall-pass. I can remember being in Mr. Gordon’s History class with Dirk Minniefield that year, watching him open his stack of mail every morning from just about every Division 1 college program from all across the country.

This was a time period in Kentucky where the University of Kentucky (UK) Men’s basketball had just won their 5th NCAA national title, the horse Affirmed had just won the Triple Crown, and Mohammad Ali had just won back his title and Pete Rose had just eclipsed 3000 hits and set a consecutive hit record.

This was a time before social media, ESPN, Fox Sports the SEC Network and 24/7 cable outlets — where if you wanted to watch greatness you actually had to go see it for yourself, where you absorbed the moment with all your senses.

Respect and memories

Respect and memories: Dirk Minefield and Coach Jock Sutherland

Little did we know how many other gifted athletes walked through our halls. The football team that year was one of the top programs in the state, with the likes of Ronnie Lear, George Adams, Kenny Minniefield and David Vest. The backfield average over 300 yards a game. We even sneaked into Louisville one Friday night to beat undefeated national power house Trinity High on their home field — during their Homecoming with a last second field goal by Danny Bishop.

This was saying something considering the fact that they were nationally ranked coming off of two straight state championships and were undefeated.

I can remember their fans and parents throwing bottles, cans and maybe even eggs at our buses as we pulled out of the parking lot that evening. That team was destined for greatness, but ended up losing a heartbreaker to the crosstown rival and legendary Coach Roy Walton, as Tates Creek went on to play and lose in the championship that year.

Ronnie Lear went on to walk-on at Marshall University where he rushed for 1,162 years his freshman year, becoming the 1st walk-on in NCAA history to rush for over 1000 yards before his career-ending injury the following year. George Adams went on to become one of UK’s best running backs of all times and was later drafted in the 1st round by the New York Giants.

The baseball team was stacked and was ranked one of the best in the state with four of the basketball team’s role players, Lance Gorham, Jeff Stakelin, Jeff Parrot and Brandy Ely, anchoring the team. Parrot and Ely both later went on to sign with UK to compete in the dominate SEC conference. Parrot later had a 10 year career with six different MLB teams. Scott Arnold also made it to the show, after spending 7 years in the minor leagues, pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. Scotty Haynes played Div. I baseball for a nationally ranked Morehead State and Jerry Larison was drafted straight out of High School in the 14th round by the Cleveland Indians.

The Girls basketball team was no slouch either and was anchored by All-State guard Lea Wise, finishing 30-3 and making it all the way to the Sweet 16 State Championship game losing out in the finals to undefeated powerhouse Laurel County. Lea Wise went on to play for the UK Lady Kats becoming one of their all-time greats, earning All Southeast Conference award. She was inducted into the Kentucky Athlete Hall of Fame.

Even the Lafayette Band was legendary that year, being dubbed the Pride of The Bluegrass becoming nationally acclaimed as one of the best in the country capping the season off by winning the Contest of Champions in Murfreesboro, Tenn., against many of America’s best bands.

When you take all this into account, this was a very special era for Lafayette High School. School pride was at an all-time high, unmatched in my opinion by any other class ever since to come through Lexington.

Gathering for the documentary viewing

Gathering for the documentary viewing

Jock’s team went 36-1 that year and every single game was a sellout even for all the away games. As students we all learned that you had to arrive early and if you didn’t you may not get in. Many times these games had to be moved to Memorial Hall to accommodate the crowds and sometimes were televised locally. That season we played the likes of many future UK basketball players — Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, Leroy (Baby Magic) Byrd, Charles (Atlas) Hurt and Todd May.

The documentary masterfully recapturing this school’s spirit as it chronologically replayed the basketball season from the start to finish — as each players, coaches, cheerleader, team manager, local sports announcers; and even Principal Price recalled many of the behind-the-scene events of that team.

Lynn Batcherlor Myers and Anita Benson both then cheerleaders provided an interesting prospective that many of us didn’t see.

In the documentary the players and coaches all told stories on one another which at times were comical, amazing, fascinating, emotional and uplifting — many of which I had never heard until that night.

One of the funnier moments in documentary came with the players and even Coach Sutherland languished in trying to describe their famously suffocating jail-house-junk defense; and from the sound of it, it’s still not defined.

One of the interesting stories revealed was Coach Sutherland’s and Junior Johnson’s relationship on and off the court. Junior was a flashing and talented player who later went on to have a lustrous career, starting all four years at University of Cincinnati.

But when he arrived at Lafayette he didn’t know if Coach Sutherland was going to play him or not and had to earn every minute of playing on an already stacked team. As the documentary shows, Coach Sutherland did a masterful and clever job meshing these two alpha males Dirk and Junior, turning them into brothers on the court.

Looking back on that team, it was obvious that each player brought something special to the team. The documentary highlighted each of their assets. Brandt Ely who could have started on any other team in the state was the most gracious and team-oriented player on that team and still looked just as chiseled as he did back in that day. Brandt did a superb job articulating his side of the story and became a bit emotional as he recalled that season.

Looking at Kurt Rose today, you can still see how he was famously known as the muscle on this team and will always be famously known as the player that shattered the glass backboard in the gym at practice. To this day he is as quiet as ever.

Kenny Minniefield, Dirk’s half-brother was just as gifted on the court and, in my opinion, sacrificed the most to make room for Junior. He spoke of the love for all of his former teammates and to this day views them all as brothers.

Tony Wilson was the big man in the paint for this team and had some very big games that caught the attention of several colleges. During the sweet sixteen tournament he was a monster hauling in a total of 58 rebounds. He later went on to have a great career at Western Kentucky University and was later drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics.

Lance Gotham, a reserve on the team and a pretty darn good athlete who very rarely got in a game, said he would have paid to watch this team play and he had the best seat in the house.

Almost all of these ex-players looked like that could still play ball at a very high level, and I could just see Coach Sutherland itching to roll a ball out to see what they could still do.

Many went on to taste great accomplishments in sports, business and in life, but all recognized that winning the state championship was the one experience they treasured most. What struck me the most was the brotherhood of this team, and how they all stood side by side next to their the father-like coach Jock Sutherland at the end of the night.



Jock was a colorful personality who rivaled some of the best in the business, but his love for his past players is what I admire most. If you played for Jock or went to Lafayette and spent any time around the gym, you had a Jock Sutherland story. As a 16-year-old, I can remember receiving some funny and poignant martial advice I never forgot.

After the documentary concluded, Junior Johnson asked for the microphone and in very touching way he informed his teammates that he had magically found one of the two basketball nets from that championship game. He handed out pieces to the players. He also called Serur Dawahare to recognize him for putting the documentary together.

Many of these players have remained in the community and are giving back. I had the pleasure of watching Tony Wilson coach my youngest daughter at Beaumont Middle School basketball as an assistant coach. He still has a strong love for the game and tries to share his knowledge with these young ladies.

Jeff Parrott coached my son Austin one summer on a High School travel team, and to this day I would have to say he is the best baseball coaches that I have ever encountered. His demeanor, knowledge and understanding of the game would rival some of the best MLB coaches. This probably explains why he won the State Champion in Woodford County a few years back when he came out of retirement from his farm to coach his son.

One of my favorite Jeff Parrott moments: Sitting in the stands in Scott County one hot summer afternoon, I looked up to see a baseball helmet go flying out of the dugout and into the woods behind right field fence. I later learned that a player had violated one of his three rules, which was to never throw anything in the dugout. Parrot quietly and calmly took care of the situation with that major league arm.

At the end of the night all of us walked away realizing what a magical time period that we all shared.

I wanted to get the word out about this documentary, because it is equivalent a well-written and produced film — and it all happened in our very own backyards.

If you didn’t grow up in this era or attend Lafayette High you will still find this documentary to be captivating and full of back stories that explain what made this team so great. To order your copy of the DVD you can do so by going to Sportshistoryfoundation.org.


Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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