Nearly a year ago I opened my laptop to write a KSR post highlighting Buckhorn High School’s unlikely voyage to the Sweet 16. Several hours later I had unintentionally finished a story that chronicled the last days of my dad’s life.
“Big Fred” went Home on April 3 at 1:39 p.m. Surrounded by both his kids and my momma when he passed, he went peacefully. Fred Maggard Sr. had very few priorities in his golden years; faith, family, and following his Wildcats were the only three that I was aware of, everything else was merely a peripheral distraction. I still can’t believe it’s nearly been a year.
March was our favorite month. He was a guard on one of the most storied Kentucky high school basketball teams in the Commonwealth’s proud history. The 1956 Carr Creek Indians won the state championship and did so with style. Big Fred hit two last-minute shots to secure Creeker wins as they marched through a loaded field to bring home the big trophy. Books have since been written about that team’s accolades. Memories of Kentucky’s golden era of high school basketball are still being shared today.
Harlan County, Pikeville, and Perry County Central advanced to this year’s Sweet 16. The three mountain teams will even play in the same session on Wednesday night. I like that. Big Fred would have loved it. You see, my dad and I had an annual state tournament tradition. In a friendly competition, we’d both complete tourney brackets and then compared our predictions. No money was bet as the higher stakes of “I was right, you were wrong” meant way more than dollars and cents. He won most years. He said that he was better at picking the champs because, unlike me, he had actually won a state tournament. On many occasions he’d point to his ring finger as to ask, “I got one, where’s your big boy?” I guess we could be classified as slightly competitive folks. This went on for over thirty years. I miss it. I miss my dad.
One of the last things my dad asked me was the same thing he’d asked a hundred times before. “How’s your job going?” I struggled to answer. Big Fred was a hardworking man, spent forty plus years in the coal mines. His idea of day’s work and what I was doing a year ago were polar opposite. I had a hard time describing that on a daily basis I monitored Twitter, wrote articles for the internet, and talked football for a living. Regardless, he seemed proud even if I wasn’t exactly picking slate off a mining belt.
This past year has flown yet it also has seemed like an eternity. I go back and forth on how I actually feel. During the first months after his funeral, I caught myself picking up the phone to call and tell him about a new adventure or to simply strike up a conversation. That stopped after a couple months. But, I often ponder which UK related news would have interested him. Here are a few I think my old man would have liked:
— Stephen Johnson. Dad would have absolutely loved the unheralded junior college quarterback who led the Cats to a 7-5 regular season record and a New Year’s Bowl. He would have admired the fight in the underdog and would have assuredly respected Johnson’s background and how prayer led to the healing of an early childhood disorder. Most of all, Big Fred respected clutch athletes, or those that performed their best in biggest moments. He’d frequently describe them, and himself, as having ice water in their veins. I can imagine him mumbling the same phrase that Stephen Johnson said just before throwing a touchdown pass on UK’s opening offensive series against the Cardinals.
— Speaking of Stephen Johnson, he would have really enjoyed the Cats’ Governor’s Cup win. Big Fred never wasted time hating an opponent other than Tennessee. But, beating the 11th ranked Cardinals in their home stadium would have brought on smiles and most likely a little trash talk if he could have found a UofL fan in Corbin.
— Maci Morris’ continued accomplishment in Lexington would have led to several proud conversations. Maci was his favorite UK basketball player. He never missed an opportunity to remind me just how much Maci reminded him of her dad. Big Fred thought the world of Maci’s pops, Lewis Morris. Lewis was a skilled, tough-guy athlete in his day that took me under his wing at Cumberland High School. My dad always appreciated that. Plus, Maci is a mountain kid doing good in the big city. Appalachians love their athletes that wear the blue and white.
— Dominique Hawkins’ SEC Tournament would have delighted the old man. He loved Kentucky Basketball, but he admired Kentucky-raised Wildcats even more. I could hear it now, “See son, what did I tell you. We’d be 38-0 if Cal would have played that Hawkins kid more.”
I could keep going. But, I have to keep in mind that readers may not think these stories are very interesting. I guess what I’m trying to convey is that the University of Kentucky has brought the BBN several extraordinary moments over the course of a year. So as the Cats start their journey through the brackets, take the time to enjoy the ride with loved ones. I’d imagine several that read this have their own “Big Fred”. March is a special time in the Bluegrass. March was our favorite month.