By J.R. VANHOOSE
For The Independent
PAINTSVILLE — When you mention the all-time greats that have played basketball at Paintsville High School many names come to mind. Names such as Hall, Daniel, Allen, LeMaster, Minix, Pelphrey, Adkins, Couch, Lyon, Ratliff, McKenzie, Tackett, VanHoose, and Slone.
When you get to the list of the players who starred in two sports, the list isn’t as long. In my recent research I have come across a person who was a two-sport star at Paintsville in the mid-1940s and it is a name that people may never have heard of.
Gordon Stewart “Corky” Kirtley was originally from Huntington, WV and came to Paintsville prior to World War II. Corky was an outstanding football player, in fact an all-conference player but he also excelled on the basketball court. As a junior in 1945, he played his first season of basketball, and made quiet an impact. As the center on the team, he used his large frame to patrol the paint, grabbing rebounds and scoring inside. In the first round of the 1945 59th District Tournament against Flat Gap, Corky scored 10 points in a 53-14 rout of the Greyhounds. In the semifinals, against a tough Meade Memorial squad, Kirtley’s inside play was pivotal. He did not score much, 6 points on the evening, but he helped Paintsville secure some key rebounds and possessions as the Tigers won in a close one 38-34.
In the finals against Van Lear, he played the same role as he did against Meade, low scoring and helping the team where needed. Bob Conley led Paintsville in another rout with 16 points, C. T. Butler followed with 11 as the Tigers won 59-33 to claim the district title. After the tournament a committee selected an all-tournament team. On the team from Paintsville were seniors Bob Conley (who averaged 15.7 ppg in the tournament), C. T. Butler (9.7 ppg), and Jim Hall. Joining them in receiving the gold basketballs that were awarded was junior Stewart “Corky” Kirtley.
Returning as a senior in 1946, Kirtley was even more of an impact player for the Tigers. He led Paintsville to championships in the Big Sandy Conference Tournament in football and basketball – the first time that had been accomplished by one team, making the all-conference team in both sports. His play in basketball and football had been so outstanding that he had been invited to the University of Kentucky on a visit.
On Feb. 7, 1946 the Paintsville Herald reported, “Stewart Kirtley and Enoch Robinson, both Tiger stars, were given scholarships to the University of Kentucky while in Lexington this weekend. Robinson received his scholarship in football and Kirtley won his in football and basketball. Kirtley and Robinson, together with Coach Oran Teater attended the University of Kentucky and Michigan State basketball game while in Lexington.” After receiving his scholarship offer, Kirtley led Paintsville into the 59th District Tournament at Inez. They won their first two games over Blaine (52-17) and Webbville (69-29). However, they were upset in the semifinals by Meade Memorial 25-24. Once again Corky made the all-district team.
Kirtley did not attend the University of Kentucky, instead he went to play football at Morehead State. While at Morehead he became “one of the best wide receivers to ever wear an Eagle uniform.” In his four-year football career at Morehead he set the following receiving records: most yards in a game (228), most touchdown catches in a game (3), and most touchdown catches in a career (15). In 1950, because of his outstanding play as a senior, he was named an Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) first-team member.
But aside from playing football in college, he also played basketball at Morehead. He joined the Morehead State basketball team on Feb.11, 1950 in a game against the Berea College Mountaineers.
According to the Paintsville Herald of February 23, 1950, “In Saturday night’s game Corky threw in 5 field goals and 1 free throw for a total of 11 points. This was second in scoring for the Eagles as Morehead’s ace guard Sonny Allen broke the record on the Berea gym with a grand total of 41 points.”
The Eagles won the game 84-67, as Kirtley and Allen combined to account for 62 percent of Morehead State’s points. Kirtley also appeared in Morehead’s 77-58 win over Union College a few days later. Sonny Allen, was again the high-point man with 31, Corky Kirtley “saw action his second time as a regular and proved very valuable as a rebound man although he tallied only three points.”
Gordon Stewart “Corky” Kirtley, two-star athlete from Paintsville High School, was inducted in the Morehead State Hall of Fame in 1988.