Once a Bearcat, still a Bearcat

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E-town attorney often reminded of 1972 title

By John Herndon

ELIZABETHTOWN – Barry Birdwhistell's law office leaves little doubt where the former Anderson County football player's allegiance lies.


Sure, there are the obligatory framed degrees from the University of Kentucky and various awards and designations from the legal profession prominently displayed, but they aren't what the visitor sees most often when chatting with the 32 year veteran of the profession.

Just off to the visitor's right, framed prominently on the facing wall, is one of those old Pepsi posters giving the 1972 football schedule of the Anderson County Bearcats. Also in the frame are a pair of photos from The Anderson News showing Birdwhistell, a smallish offensive guard, leading the way for star running back Anthony Stratton on the eventual district champions' signature play.

“We ran that old Green Bay power sweep,” Birdwhistell remembers. “I don't know how often, but we ran it a ton of times.”

(Other members of the team guess Coach Dutch Ishmael made that call at least once every offensive series.)

It was the Bearcats' bread-and-butter as they stunned the experts by turning three dismal seasons into the school's first football championship of any kind. “We had some good players, but we just couldn't win a game,” says Birdwhistell, who practices several areas of law in Elizabethtown.

It seemed that would be the case when the Bearcats traveled to Woodford County for the 1972 season opener on Sept. 1. “We should have won that game,” he says of the night when Woodford scored with three seconds to go.

Somehow, the Woodford loss stung enough and the Green Bay sweep worked enough to give the Bearcats their first chance at the post-season. Anderson wasn't very big. “I think I was about the second heaviest lineman and I weight 170 or 180 pounds,” Birdwhistell laughs. “Lee Moore (a junior who was named all-state center) was the biggest guy on our line. He weighed about 200 pounds.”

Opponents knew the sweep was coming. They knew the guards, Birdwhistell and Ray Cunningham, would be leading the way. They knew Stratton would be looking for a seam.

They just couldn't stop it.

“Ray and I would be leading the way. Jeff Kays was very important on that play, too. The fullback had to block for it to work. Then, Anthony did such a good job just waiting for things to open up,” Birdwhistell says, then breaks into a big smile. “One of those pictures over there (hanging in Birdwhistell's office), it looks like Anthony is pushing me a little.

“We were all so close on and off the field. No one played college football, that I know of, but we were successful.”

The magic of 1972 ended when Richmond Madison, a heavy favorite to win the state Class A title, came to town for the regional championship game, which at the time was the first round of the playoffs.

“They were just so much better than we were,” Birdwhistell remembers with a laugh. “They had a guy named Robbie Morton who played tackle and went on to play at Tennessee. I was just thankful he was on the other side of the line.”

Things weren't much better on Birdwhistell's side, though. “The guy I was against was so quick. I remember during a break, Dutch came to me and asked if I was ever going to block him. I said, 'If I can catch him, I will block him,'” he laughs.

The details might blur after 40 years, but the memories are still strong. Sometimes, something hanging on an attorney's wall is all that is needed to spark a conversation.

“I have been my own boss for about 25 years,” says Birdwhistell, who shares the office with two other attorneys, including his son, Tyler.

Basketball is Birdwhistell's game now. He attends the Kentucky state high school tournament every year and made the Final Four with the Kentucky Wildcats this season.

He does try to make several high school football games each year, too. His son played football at Central Hardin and he makes an occasional game to see perennial state power John Hardin. He even finds his way back to Anderson County on occasion.

Nothing, though compares to the memory of 1972.

“What is funny is that since I have been here, there have been two guys come in here to see me on other things. They saw that schedule over there and we realized we had played against each other that year.

“One of them was a running back for Washington County. The lights (at the current Warford Stadium) had gone out but we were still playing. They got ahead 19-0 but we came back and won 29-19.”

Birdwhistell pauses, then laughs. “He's still a little raw over that.”

Then again, Birdwhistell's visitor wasn't an Anderson County Bearcat that fall.


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