Thursday, June 2, 2022

Jackie Latham

The date was Nov. 13, 1956. The location was the Clinton County High School gymnasium. It was opening night for the 1956-57 basketball season and the Marrowbone Cardinals were in town. No other game could have provided any greater highlights than there was that night at CCHS. Coach Bill Kidd's Bulldogs had played poorly during the first half and were down by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, when suddenly the momentum began to change. The Clinton County News wrote that the Bulldogs began to claw their way back into the game by displaying a superbly aggressive style of defense, stealing the ball and causing their opponent to commit one mistake after another. With four seconds left to play, and CCHS trailing 49-to-48, Jackie Latham, a 16-year-old freshman guard, playing in his very first official varsity game, stepped up to the free throw line after being fouled and calmly made two free throws to give his team the win.

Fast forward to the 1958-59 season. Lindle Castle was now the head coach (his second season) and his basketball squad was playing its toughest sched­ule in the history of the school. Last year's team had produced a winning record for the first time since the 1954-55 season. It was Dec. 4th, about a month into the season, when Jackie Latham, now a junior, suffered a broken ankle after he slipped and fell on spilled Coca-Cola during a game against Burkesville at the Marrowbone gym. Even though the Bulldogs had the scoring power of Jim DeForest, Bob Reneau, Ken Conner and Billy Perdue, and help from other players like Walker Stockton, Lanny Weaver, Ira Davis, Ray Reneau and Clayton Brown, the loss of Latham was a huge blow to the team. He was averaging 19.1 points per game when the accident occurred. The hope was that he would be ready to go by district tournament time, and he was, scoring 17 points in the win against their first opponent, Cumberland County, and 24 when we beat Marrowbone in the championship game (DeForest had 33).

No one knew it, but the golden years of basketball under the leadership of Lindle Castle were just beginning. "Until two years ago," wrote James Paul Allen in the Clinton County News, "CCHS had begun to lose all hopes in its ball club, because they were having one losing season after another, and hadn't won a district trophy for a while. Then along came Coach Castle to renew the school spirit and build the Bulldogs to what they are today." The coach would later say, "We had a lot of one room schools out in the county at that time. We had goals put up at all of them. We had a lot of men teachers who were interested in basketball and taught the fundamentals of the game to their boys. They would play ball all year around. There wasn't that much else to do. The children wore out the goals practicing hour after hour. Then they started closing the one room schools in favor of better education. When these schools closed, the golden years ended."

The 1959 district championship was Clinton County's first one since 1944. Principal L.H. "Prof" Robinson wrote, "we entered the tournament as the most underrated, most forgotten team in tournament history. Somehow, I felt Jackie would throw away the shackles of plastic paris [the cast on his foot] and again roam the basketball court like a haunted ghost. It was a great day for CCHS when he was able to start practicing again. Even then, the faint hearted said he will never get back in condition this school year. They failed to reckon with the will of a boy who loves the sport of basketball and to reckon with the rapid recovery of a vigorous American boy." In the regional tournament, the Bulldogs lost their first game to Russellville, despite a double-double from Deforest (32 points and 18 rebounds), with Latham scoring 24 points for the second straight game.

Jackie worked hard on conditioning during the summer of 1959 and was ready to go by the time the next season rolled around. On opening night, Nov. 6th, he let everyone know he was back and better than ever by scoring 33 points on 13 field goals and seven free throws against the Marrowbone team. The Bulldogs were 6-0 when they played at Wayne County on Dec. 3rd. It has been said over the years that during the game the action was extremely rough. So rough, in fact, that near the end of the third quarter Coach Castle pulled his players off the floor and the game was over. A week later the KHSAA imposed a thirty-day suspension on the Bulldogs, ending play for the remainder of 1959. Games would resume on Jan. 3rd. The lay-off was actually good for Jackie, who had missed the last two games due to a hand injury.

By the end of February 1960, the Mighty Bulldogs were rated first in the district and second in the region. We won the district tournament by defeating Metcalfe County for the second time in three meetings. A fourth meeting between the two teams would occur on March 12th, when the Bulldogs edged past the Hornets 65-to-62 in overtime to win the school's first ever regional championship before a packed house of 4,500 people at Bowling Green High School. It would be the night that Jackie Latham, now a senior, would officially become a legend.

Metcalfe County's strong defense had kept the Hornets on top at the end of the first three quarters. The 4th quarter was no less than a battle between David and Goliath, Metcalfe County's 6'6 John Paul Blevins and Clinton County's 5'11 Jackie Latham. Clinton County News would describe it as "a battle between a real good big boy and a real good little one." On WANY, the Voice of the Bulldogs, Sid Scott, would describe it this way, "a big man versus a little man, and the little man is winning!

Here's how it went down: Blevins stung the Bulldogs with three straight goals to move Metcalfe to a 50-46 lead with less than three minutes left to play in regulation. Latham responded with five straight points to put Clinton ahead 51-50. He hit on a third straight field goal from the circle and it was 53-50 with 1:45 left. Blevins cashed in on two free throws, but so did Latham. Blevins' turnaround jumper made it 55-54, with Clinton County still on top. Billy Per­due connected on two free throws and with 57 seconds left Clin­ton County appeared to have it in the bag at 57-54. However, Blevins was fouled during a field goal attempt and converted both free throws with 47 seconds left to pull the Hornets to within one point. The Bulldogs tried to play keep away but Perdue misfired on a pass to Latham. With just 12 seconds remaining, Metcalfe County's Pierce was fouled by Wilkie Skipworth as he drove in for a layup. He made one of two free throws to tie the game at 57-all. Latham attempted a 12-foot jumper at the buzzer, but the ball bounced twice on the rim before falling off. It was all Clinton County in the overtime period. When the smoke cleared, three things had happened; the Bulldogs had won 65-to-62, Jackie Latham had scored 19 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and for the first time ever the Bulldogs were going to the Sweet 16.

"The Best Backcourt Duo in Kentucky in 1960"

By all accounts, Jackie Latham and Billy Perdue were the best backcourt duo in Kentucky in 1960. While Perdue, who had grown up in the Cartwright community, was known for his ability to score from long range, Latham, who lived next door at Upchurch, was known for his quickness and a two-hand set shot that rarely missed. Nick­named "Rabbit" because he was always running, Jackie hustled non-stop. It is said he once threw a bag of fertilizer on his back and ran a mile, just to show he could do it. At the age of 65, he played 202 holes of golf in one day. At the age of 70, he played ninety holes, running between every shot.

Someone once said it doesn't matter how long you live. What matters is what you do while you are living and what you leave behind when you are gone. Many older folks will tell you that Jackie Latham was probably the best guard Clinton County High School boys varsity basketball ever produced. One thing for sure, by the time he was finished, he had put a stamp on the future of CCHS basketball.

Jackie was inducted in the Clinton County High School Basketball Wall of Fame in 1999.

Left to Right: Jackie Latham, Coach Lindle Castle and Billy Perdue

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