Forty years later — Cox named Mr. Basketball; Bulldogs’ run ends

By John Henson, From The Sidelines

History will remember the 1981 basketball season in Harlan County for a number of milestones.
I remember it as my senior year at James A. Cawood High School, which means it’s almost time for the 40-year reunion of the Class of 81.
It was also the year that Cawood’s Phil Cox earned his second all-state selection while setting school and county records for points scored with 2,401 on his way to being named the state’s Mr. Basketball. Cox led Cawood to a 52nd District title that season. The Trojans made it to the regional finals before falling to Clay County in the 13th Region Tournament finals at Knox Central. The Trojans’ lineup also included juniors Mike Buell and Scott Hatfield and sophomores David Hensley and Everly Eads.
University of Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall sat a couple of seats down from me at a Cawood game earlier that season, but Hall decided against offering a scholarship. Cox went on to sign with Vanderbilt and coach C.M. Newton and became the school’s all-time leading scorer as a four-year starter.
That year was also the finale for Lynch High School. Declining enrollment led to a decision in the summer of 1980 to merge with the Harlan County School District.
The Bulldogs didn’t have enough players to field a football team in the fall of 1980, ending a proud tradition that featured four Class A state titles and four state runner-up finishes from 1959 to 1971 under coach Ed Miracle.
Lynch also fielded several strong basketball teams, advancing all the way to the 13th Region Tournament finals in 1964. The Bulldogs beat Harlan 62-57 in the 52nd District Tournament finals that year at Loyall, but Harlan gained revenge in the regional finals at the old Bell County High School with a 70-60 win.
Miracle led the Bulldogs back to the regional finals in 1971 at Clay County after wins over Jackson County and Lone Jack before falling 67-57 to Middlesboro and Robert Mayhall. Lynch won district titles again in 1974 and 1975, getting to the semifinals in 1975 before being eliminated by Dinky Phipps and the Barbourville Tigers. Lynch won 20 games in 1979 and 19 in 1980, winning their last district title with one of the region’s biggest lineups. By the 1980-81 season, Mitchell was the only experienced player left and he went on to earn all-state honors before signing with Eastern Kentucky University. The Bulldogs struggled through much of the regular season but shocked Cumberland in the 52nd District semifinals at Cumberland before falling 87-67 to Cawood in the finals. The Bulldogs lost to Clay County in the final game in school history.
In addition to Cox and Mitchell, those earning honorable mention all-state honors from the county that season included Harlan’s Ja
On the girls side, the 1981 season will be remembered as the first championship for coach John Bond and the Cumberland Lady Skins. The Lady Skins struggled in the early years of girls basketball but slowly developed into a contender and ended Cawood’s five-year run as district champs with a 44-43 win in the championship game over the Trojanettes. Harlan was also strong that season, posting an 18-7 record that included a 54-53 overtime loss to Cumberland in the semifinals. Cumberland’s Margaret Harris and Teresa Krahenbuhl earned honorable mention all-state honors that season, along with Harlan’s Glenda Powell and Evarts’ Sherry Napier.
The 52nd District was forever changed after 1981, dropping from the five teams it had featured since 1967 and going to four teams from 1982 to the statewide realignment before the 2005-2006 season that added Bell County and Middlesboro. The district again went back to four teams for the 2008-2009 season when Harlan County High School opened following the merger of James A. Cawood, Cumberland and Evarts high schools.