Jack Denny Johnson

This collection began with the Kentucky Oral History Commission’s effort to establish oral history programs in each of the state’s 120 counties. County libraries worked with local volunteers to collect interviews. Since 1987, county oral histories have been generated primarily by recipients of technical assistance grants from the commission that provide training and equipment to volunteer interviewers. Interviews donated by independent researchers are also included. Original collection held at Kentucky Oral History Commission/Kentucky Historical Society.  Access copies available at Lincoln County Public Library. Authorization must by granted by KHS to use or publish by any means the archival material to which the Society holds copyright.

LINCOLN COUNTY ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS 

JACK DENNY JOHNSON (via phone) INTERVIEWED BY PHIL PENDLETON  

July 11, 2013 

Provided by WPBK-FM Radio

 

Mr. Pendleton: First question, where did you attend high school? 

Mr. Johnson: McKinney. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay, and what year did you…. 

Mr. Johnson: Lincoln County. 

Mr. Pendleton: And, what year did you graduate? 

Mr. Johnson: 1947. 

Mr. Pendleton: Did you play basketball? 

Mr. Johnson: Yes. 

Mr. Pendleton: And, you were the head coach at Hustonville, from ’55 to ’56 and then ’63 to ’64.  How did you wind up at Hustonville? 

Mr. Johnson: I was there from ’55 through ’64. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay. 

Mr. Johnson: Nine or ten years. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay. 

Mr. Johnson: I coached…when I got out of college, I coached one year at McKinney High School, and I had to go to the Army at the end of school.  Then, when I got back out of the Army, I went to King’s Mountain as principal and I coached a little ball team there too, because I wanted to…. 

Mr. Pendleton: Mm. 

Mr. Johnson: For a year, and then the job opened up at Hustonville, and I kind of always wanted to coach. 

Mr. Pendleton: Well…. 

Mr. Johnson: So, I went there and stayed, I guess, nine years, ten, and then I took the Superintendent’s job at Burgin Independent for ten years, and then I came back and took this job as Superintendent for ten years in Lincoln County.  Built a new high school out here; I was the first Superintendent for that. 

Mr. Pendleton: Wow.  So, what was it like coaching and playing basketball back then?  Was it kind of like the movie Hoosiers? 

Mr. Johnson: You know, the main difference I noticed in basketball back then and today, kids, you know, they do the weights, and they jump higher, is one of the main things.  When I first started coaching, like, we had eight or ten different defenses and, you know, we’d do the fast break, and we’d do about everything they do today, other kids… kids are just a lot stronger today than they were then.  And, that’s a result of all the exercise, you know, the weights and the programs and all that, that they go through with. 

Mr. Pendleton: Hmm; Albert Wall followed you at Hustonville? 

Mr. Johnson: That’s right. 

Mr. Pendleton: And, had he been an assistant at Memorial? 

Mr. Johnson: I believe he had been. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay, and…. 

Mr. Johnson: We really didn’t have assistants back then. 

(Laughter) 

Mr. Pendleton: Oh. 

Mr. Johnson: I made three hundred dollars a year and I’d have about eighty boys out for basketball.   

Mr. Pendleton: Wow. 

Mr. Johnson: Of course, most of them would have to sit still during game days.  And, then, I’d take all those kids and work them out, you know, like if the varsity had a game that night…. 

Mr. Pendleton: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Johnson: Then, I would practice all those kids back then, and give them a good workout on those days it was the varsity was off or played that night. 

Mr. Pendleton: You replaced Earl Land at Hustonville. 

Mr. Johnson: That’s right. 

Mr. Pendleton: Where did he go and how long had he been at Hustonville? 

Mr. Johnson: I don’t believe he was there very long. I’m guessing two or three years.  And, maybe, he went to Ohio.  It’s been so…that’s been a long time ago.  I think he went to Ohio after that. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay, and…. 

Mr. Johnson: He’s…I think he’s deceased now. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay; did you quit coaching after that stint in Hustonville? 

Mr. Johnson: I quit in 1964 and somebody from Burgin came and asked me would I come over there and interview for that Superintendent’s job, and I did and got the job.  And, that’s when I gave up coaching. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay; your final team at Hustonville won the district tournament and then lost in the…lost the region in a close game to McCreary County…or McCreary Central 67 to 61.  What are your memories from that season? 

Mr. Johnson: Well, the first half, they kind of controlled that game, and then in the second half, we were kind of controlling the game.  And, we had one of our top players named Nelson Graves, somebody undercut him on a rebound and he got a concussion.  And, he told me he was all right and I put him back in, and his man scored six real quick points.  And the game was about even when this happened.  And, then, I had to take him out.  And, about the last four, five, six minutes, we had to play it without our best shooter; you know, especially for a long distance and all that.  And, they were able to do whatever you said the final score there was…to build it back up to that.  We had brought it down to practically even before that happened and were doing real well.  It looked like we were going to win it at that point. 

Mr. Pendleton: Did Nelson Graves play on that team? 

Mr. Johnson: Yes. 

Mr. Pendleton: I guess he had been at Lincoln High before integration.  Did any… 

Mr. Johnson: He’d…. 

Mr. Pendleton: Other play…. 

Mr. Johnson: He’d been at Lincoln High. 

Mr. Pendleton: What about any other players?  Did any other players from Lincoln High integrate at Hustonville? 

Mr. Johnson: He’s the only varsity player that we had had, but we had some younger kids, you know, like freshmens and sophomores that last year I coached.  And, two or three of them played some later, but they never had played at Lincoln High. 

Mr. Pendleton: Talk about the integration.  What are your memories of that? 

Mr. Johnson: Well, at Hustonville, we didn’t really have a problem with that.  The kids came in, and like one of the girls was a cheerleader and Nelson played basketball.  Most of those kids were out in the rural areas and they had good parents and they were disciplined at home, and it just seemed like it went real well with us. 

Mr. Pendleton: Hmm; do you remember the Lincoln High team being treated poorly in the 1962 regional tournament in Somerset? 

Mr. Johnson: I may remember that just a little bit.  But, I don’t recall it being terrible, you know, anything that was real bad; maybe a few people did a little something, you know, but most everybody…they had pretty good basketball teams back then, Lincoln High did. 

Mr. Pendleton: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Johnson: They had a guy there by the name of Mr. Cavanaugh (sic) the last three or four years, a real nice looking fellow and just a real nice fellow. 

Mr. Pendleton: Huh. 

Mr. Johnson: And, Mr. Parks was the principal and he did a good job with them discipline-wise, too. 

Mr. Pendleton: Did you get into administration after leaving the coaching ranks? 

Mr. Johnson: Yes. 

Mr. Pendleton: And, what do you remember about the consolidation of the schools into Lincoln County High School? 

Mr. Johnson: Well, when I came back here from the Burgin Independent system, and I was hired here as Superintendent, that summer, when we were going into the new Lincoln County High School that fall, and we had, I don’t know, six or eight high schools, and I could name them all, if I took time and count them, and everything gelled real well, and I…of course, we went to the state tournament that first year and I can tell you that certainly had a lot to do with it, you know, if you’re winning basketball games and the football team…you know, we had that…we had everything going real well, and it just went well.  It just really went well.  And, everybody, I guess, really wondered, you know, about bringing kids from different places, so many different high schools, but just…we were real well pleased with it. 

Mr. Pendleton: What are the…did all those schools want the consolidation?  I mean, were there some that kind of had a lot of second thoughts about it? 

Mr. Johnson: Well, maybe some of the adults did.  I don’t think the kids ever did. 

Mr. Pendleton: Hmm. 

Mr. Johnson: And, the…they let the kids kindly…they brought kids in from each high school out in the county and let them, you know, help make a lot of the decisions, like school colors, the nickname, like the Patriots, and these kids, they did all that, out in the schools that were consolidating.  And, so, I think when they got there, that they felt like, you know, that they had a part, you know, in…in help make a lot of the decisions, which they did, and it worked well. 

Mr. Pendleton: Talk about the site they chose for the high school.  Was there talk about maybe even having it further South, having it a more central location like somewhere near where Memorial School was? 

Mr. Johnson: That wouldn’t be really more central.  I didn’t help with that decision.  That was done prior to my coming back here.  I think maybe at one time they’d even mentioned out on the Hustonville Road a short distance out there. 

Mr. Pendleton: Hmm. 

Mr. Johnson: And, then, I guess they were able to secure that land out there, so that probably was the furtherest (sic) away, what would be the South end, and that put it out on that highway. 

Mr. Pendleton: And, I would say that, you know, just architecturally speaking, that at the time, and, I mean, still so, it looks like a very modern school.  It was probably state-of-the art for 1974 or what have you? 

Mr. Johnson: Oh, it was…yeah, it was top of the line, that high school was, yes.  And, the gym, of course, you’ve been in it…. 

Mr. Pendleton: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Johnson: And, it’s probably one of the best…nicest gyms around, especially with the lobby; maybe the nicest around. 

Mr. Pendleton: It must have been exciting to win the twelfth region with the first team at the new high school. 

Mr. Johnson: It really was.  And, like I said before, it really was just…pulled…it really pulled the county together, you know.  It just really added to that.  We weren’t having problems, but it certainly helped, you know, to have that, the first year. 

Mr. Pendleton: This may be somewhat of a loaded question, I guess, but what do you think of the state of athletics today in Lincoln County? 

Mr. Johnson: Well, of course, the basketball teams have been, you know…both the boys and girls have done sufficiently well in the last little while.  And, a…. 

Mr. Pendleton: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Johnson: Football’s kindly been down.  We had some real good football teams there.  In fact, we went up…early on, {  } in the high school, Snooky Wooldridge was the coach at that time, we went up and played Fort Thomas at Fort Thomas and had them beat until two or three minutes to go, and of course they went on and won the state so…and then we had two or three other real strong teams and they were doing quite well.  I don’t know whether you are alluding to the fact, maybe, that all the other schools are gone, and of course, maybe that deprived some kids of playing, you know, by bringing them in, but now they offer so many other sports they can play other things now.  One thing I always felt like, in athletics, in a big high school like Lincoln County, that maybe a coach needs to recruit in there, you know. 

Mr. Pendleton: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Johnson: Kindly like being a college coach going out and recruiting; so many boys they feel inferior, they don’t think they can play, you know, in a school that size. 

Mr. Pendleton: Right. 

Mr. Johnson: Sometimes I talked to them about that.  I’d say, you know, you need to keep down there.  And, that’s where we keep those kids at like when I was telling you there at Hustonville, we’d keep seventy, eighty kids out, and a lot of times a boy doesn’t mature until he gets to be a sophomore and I’ve seen a lot of ball players that you might kick off in eighth grade or ninth grade that when they got to be sophomores, that’s usually the turning point in most careers.  And, sometimes they would just blossom and come right out of it and make good ball players at that age. 

Mr. Pendleton: Wow. 

Mr. Johnson: I guess, overall, you know, everybody you play anymore is about your size and probably at the end of the year everybody averages it out, it would wind up five hundred, so, I expect they do right well out here. 

Mr. Pendleton: Huh; well, that’s all the questions that John wanted me to ask you.  Is there anything else that you’d like to add or any other thoughts about sports history?  I mean, there’s been a lot that’s happened in Lincoln County.  As I’ve helped John do this project, it would seem to me that kind of like a microcosm of everything that happened across the United States kind of had a local…had a local impact here in this county alone. 

Mr. Johnson: I’ve had a lot of good experiences with the people that I played ball with and coached with.  Most of the coaches in my time, back now, most of them are deceased.  Like Doyle McGuffey, he’s gone.  He was up at Memorial High School.  And, Doug Pendygraft was one of the later coaches over at Crab Orchard and he played at U.K.  He’s still living.  And, let’s see, Denzel Dennis was coaching…he was Wayne Martins’ real close friend.  That’s how I got to know Wayne…. 

Mr. Pendleton: Hmm. 

Mr. Johnson: Through him; he was coach and left here and went to Breckenridge Training up at Morehead. 

Mr. Pendleton: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Johnson: And, Wayne was helping him up there as a student.  So, that was how we got acquainted.  And, he’s in Florida now.  Jack Lasle (sic) is in Mt. Vernon.  He took a team to state tournament one time.  He’s deceased now.  Truman {  } at Middleberg, coach at Liberty, he’s gone.  And, you know, one time, Russell County, Jamestown and Russell Springs High School was in this district and Livingston and Mt. Vernon and Brodhead was in this district.  And, at one time, I think, there was about eleven high schools in Lincoln County.  So, we had a lot of schools in this district at one time.  I remember one time we was having a district tournament up at Stanford and the first night the lights went out and so they had…Stanford and Moreland was playing, so they had to postpone that one to the next night, and the next night, they got in a fight, and some woman jumped out of the stands with a purse…I never will forget that…right out on the floor and was swinging at the players.  And, then, they called the game off that night.  And, they played it…they finished the game the next night.  So that was three nights for one game. 

Mr. Pendleton: Huh. 

Mr. Johnson: We talk about that around…we still talk about that and the memories of some of the older people. 

Mr. Pendleton: That’s interesting. 

Mr. Johnson: Yeah. 

Mr. Pendleton: Well, thank you for your time. 

Mr. Johnson: Yeah. 

Mr. Pendleton: I really appreciate it.  And, John will appreciate it, too.  He’s got a list of some other people he wants me to try to track down as well. 

Mr. Johnson: Well, if you think of anything else, you can call me any time. 

Mr. Pendleton: Okay, I sure will.  All right, thank you so much.  Bye now. 

 

END OF INTERVIEW