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The high school basketball season is just around the corner. Fans attending games at the Trimble County High School gymnasium often note the presence of the life-sized image and career statistics of the late TCHS standout Jack Tingle located in the gym lobby.
What a number of today’s basketball enthusiasts may not realize is that Trimble High and University of Kentucky Wildcats standout and later NBA player Jack Tingle never played for the Trimble County Raiders. When Jack and his high school teammates drew large crowds and famed personages such as “The Baron” himself, Adolph Rupp, to the old McCane Auditorium in Bedford in the early 1940s, Trimble County High School’s athletic nickname was the “Blue Demons” and the junior varsity was commonly called the “Little Demons.”
I asked a question at last week’s Trimble County Alumni Banquet for which none of the attendees readily had an answer: When did the Trimble County Blue Demons become the Trimble County Raiders? Most everyone today probably assumes that the sobriquet change came with the consolidation of Milton High and Trimble County High Schools during the 1953-54 school term but that wasn’t the case.
Trimble’s school colors in the days before consolidation with Milton High School in the fall of 1952 were blue and white. When Milton was merged into the county high school half of Trimble’s colors were dropped in favor of adding half of Milton’s black and gold colors and the new school colors became blue and gold. That change came immediately.
But Trimble County High School continued to use the athletic name “Blue Demons” for another season-and-a-half before the student body voted for a nickname change for future athletic teams of the consolidated program.
While reviewing back issues of The Trimble Democrat from the mid-1950s, one finds occasional references to the Blue Demons during the 1953-54 basketball season, including large display ads promoting the Blue Demons’ upcoming game schedule. Frequently, the team was referred to as “Coach D.R. Hutchinson’s cagers” or “Coach D.R. Hutchinson’s players” as if the writer was hesitant to use the longstanding nickname. In mid-December of 1954 there is a reference to “Coach D.R. Hutchinson’s Thunderbolts” as if the sportswriter foresaw a name change in the works. A month later, the paper reported that a vote was pending on Jan. 14, 1955 that would likely change the school’s athletic name to “Raiders.”
In the January 13, 1955 issue of the paper the writer indicated that on the following day a vote of the student body was expected to change the school’s nickname officially from Blue Demons to the “Trimble County Raiders” in honor of Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry, who were widely known during the Civil War as “Morgan’s Raiders.”
Appropriately, several young men from Trimble County had ridden with Morgan’s Fourth Kentucky Cavalry during that war and now their descendants would keep the spirit of that proud group of warriers alive on fields of athletic battle.
The vote on Jan. 14, 1955 made it official as was reported the following week in the newspaper (see photo at right).
The first team to be called the Trimble County Raiders posted a phenomenal record of achievements. That team won the 1954-55 North Central Kentucky Conference championship, took runnerup honors in the 32nd District Tournament and advanced to the Eighth Region championship game before falling to the Shelbyville Red Devils, 74-63. The conference title had been Trimble’s first since 1943 and only the second since TCHS had joined the NCKC in 1936. Trimble closed regular season play with a 17-1 conference record and 24-4 overall going into post-season play. The Raiders ended the year at 27-6.
Few Raider teams in the decades since have come close, although the 1968-69 Raiders posted a season of more than 20 wins with a record of 21-9.
Coach Dave Hutchinson also coached Trimble’s cross country team to the Kentucky XC championship in the fall of 1954. That team included several young men who also contributed to Trimble’s basketball success later that winter.
Members of the 1954-55 basketball Raiders included James “Cornbread” Stethen, Bobby Perry, Dalton Oak, Graham Abbott, John Campbell, Gordon Bryan, Jimmie Wentworth, Donnie Alexander, Bob Dunaway, Wayne Jones and brothers Bob and John Brown.
Late in the season Jimmie Wentworth set a new school, conference and regional scoring record by netting 47 points in a 99-84 win over Simpsonville on the road. Wentworth wasn’t the only big gun for the Raiders as the term “high point man” frequently shuffled between the various players during the course of the year. One night Graham Abbott might net 36 points. On another Stethen sank 25 points, on yet another Alexander might be the top scorer.
On one January night the team trashed Eminence by a 104-81 score—said at the time to be the most points ever scored by a Trimble team. Trimble’s offense was producing an average 72.4 points per game in a day when the game was much different than today’s high school cagers play. Imagine how many points that first Raiders team might have produced had today’s three-point shot been in play.
The original Raiders set a high benchmark for every team that has followed. Current Coach Johnny Leap and the 2012-13 edition of the Trimble County Raiders are already at work, as are Kerrie Stewart’s Lady Raiders, preparing for the upcoming basketball campaign. Best of luck, Blue & Gold!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ripples Over the Dike is a recurrent column about items of historical significance that have occurred in Trimble County. The name comes from the ripples that are formed by the Ohio River current flowing over the submerged remains of what was once the Milton Dike.