The story of the 1967 Ashland Tomcats state championship football team is Hollywood-like, but everything about it is absolutely true.
It’s both triumphant and tragic.
Author Mark Maynard, longtime sportswriter, sports editor and current editor at The Independent, explored the many underlying stories involving the ’67 Tomcats in his new book, fittingly titled “Tragedy and Triumph.”
Ashland’s ’67 team is remembered for many different reasons.
The Tomcats defeated Elizabethtown, 19-14, in the state championship game on the night after Thanksgiving. Under coach Jake Hallum, the team finished off a 13-1 season on a high note, at least on the surface.
However, what happened earlier that day hindered a normally celebratory occasion.
Unbeknownst to those who took the field that night in Louisville, an Ashland classmate had died in a horrific car accident just hours prior to kickoff.
Joe Franklin, just 16, was the driver in a vehicle containing four other classmates. The group — four basketball players and a team manager — was on its way to a basketball scrimmage game.
Franklin played football the year before, but decided to give it up to focus more on his No. 1 sport.
The football team, in its travel to the state championship game to be played that night, stopped in Mt. Sterling for a planned rest stop. When they parked, an Ashland man pecked on the window of the rented bus — Ashland Independent Schools didn’t have school buses at the time.
The man signaled for Coach Hallum. Hallum was informed that Franklin had been killed. He gathered his assistants and collectively decided they wouldn’t tell the team until later.
Typically, the state finals were played at University of Kentucky’s Stoll Field. This particular season, Kentucky and Tennessee scheduled a late game and thus the field was unavailable for the high school event.
It just so happened that the Louisville Fairgrounds had bleachers on only one side of the field. Ashland’s bench was on the vacant side, so no fans could inform the players of the tragic event that had transpired earlier.
Many of the band members, cheerleaders and fans in the stands heard the news in various ways before kickoff. The team still knew nothing about it.
Ashland rolled to a 19-0 halftime lead before hanging on to beat E-Town by five.
After some celebration in the locker room, Hallum decided to inform the team about Franklin and another classmate who was injured badly in the accident.
On their way home the next day, Hallum called co-captains Paul Hill and John Radjunas to the front of the bus around Grayson. He told the guys he didn’t think they should experience their normal celebration, which included a fire truck ride, upon arriving home.
The ’67 Tomcats never got their fire truck ride.
With this all-encompassing story, Maynard hopes to play his part in delivering something long overdue.
“Forty-five years later, I want this to be their fire truck ride,” Maynard said. “State championships need to be celebrated. This book gives them a chance to celebrate. That was my motive for writing it.”
Of Ashland’s 11 state football champions, the ’67 team is “kind of the forgotten champion,” Maynard said.
“It’s a happy time, but a sad time too,” Maynard said. “Franklin’s death and this state title are intertwined forever.”
Maynard and his father, Clarence, were in attendance on that cold night in Louisville.
“I was 10 years old, and I remember watching that game very well,” Maynard said. “I have always been fascinated with this team even as I became a sportswriter.
“I enjoyed getting to know a lot of those guys on a personal level,” he added.
Eight players on the team ended up with Division I scholarships. Steve Scott and Les Lyons played at Kentucky.
Much of the book, probably between 80 and 90 percent, focuses on the team, the opponents it played, games it played and so forth. One memorable game, for instance, was a 21-20 victory over McKell in which McKell’s Don Gullett scored three touchdowns.
However, the ’67 Tomcats will forever be linked with their fallen classmate, Joe Franklin.
“Tragedy and Triumph” is Maynard’s third book in as many years. He’s also written “Mark My Words” and “Teamwork.”
The book can be purchased at 1967tomcatbook.com with a PayPal account. It is also available at Ashland Sporting Goods, South Ashland Greenhouse and The Independent office. Cost is $20.