Maggard reflects on Hall of Fame career

Former+Cumberland+High+School+three-sport+star+Freddie+Maggard+is+pictured+playing+quarterback+for+the+Kentucky+WIldcats.

Former Cumberland High School three-sport star Freddie Maggard is pictured playing quarterback for the Kentucky WIldcats.

(Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Aug. 11, 2015)

Almost 30 years after his remarkable Cumberland High School sports career came to an end, Freddie Maggard maintains many of the friendships he has had since childhood.
“It’s amazing. I thought about this on the way down here. I was making calls on the way, and the calls I made were to people I played Little League against,” Maggard said. “Even after all those years I’m calling Lewis Morris, Chris Hernandez, Kevin Rhinehart and those guys.”
Maggard was back in his native Harlan County earlier in the summer to serve as an instructor at the Passing for a Purpose camp at Harlan County High School. He also was on hand when his Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame plaque was placed in the trophy case at HCHS, and he also recorded an interview at the school as part of the Harlan County Sports Legends series featured on Harlan Cable Channel 34.
In the interview, Maggard credited many of his former coaches and teammates with helping him become perhaps the greatest Harlan County athlete since Wah Wah Jones in the 1940s. Maggard was an all-state selection as both a quarterback and defensive back at Cumberland before going on to start at quarterback for the University of Kentucky. Baseball may have been Maggard’s best sport as he played on three 13th Region championship teams and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. He was also a basketball standout and started on perhaps the greatest team in Cumberland history.
“My intent with the Hall of Fame was to recognize Harlan County and the Tri-Cities and everybody who got me to that point,” Maggard said. “I felt uncomfortable receiving an individual award for something I thought should have been presented to the community, but it was humbling and a great experience, something I will never forget. It’s an award and honor I will cherish the rest of my life.”
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Ice water from Carr Creek
Maggard grew up with a Kentucky high school mountain sports legend in his home. His father, Fred, hit two game-winning shots to carry Carr Creek to the 1956 Sweet Sixteen title.
“I heard about the Carr Creek legend from the time I could remember anything until now,” Maggard said. “It’s a story people still talk about and something I take a lot of pride in with my dad. When I was growing up, my dad used to talk about having ice water in his veins. When tight situations would come up in games, I would look over to him and he’d point to his arm to remind me that I needed to have ice water in my veins.
Most people remember the 1956 Sweet Sixteen for the exploits of Wayland star King Kelly Coleman, one of the greatest high school players in Kentucky history. Coleman set the state record that season with a 70-point performance in a win over Bell County in the third-place game, just after Wayland had lost to Maggard’s Carr Creek team.
The elder Maggard and Coleman met several times on the court with Maggard growing up in Knott County and Coleman in neighboring Floyd County.
“He can tell some great stories about King Kelly Coleman. He said by the time they entered the gym in the state tournament and walked to the other end to their locker room, Kelly had scored 10 points. They had played a couple of times during the season. Carr Creek went on to beat them and held Coleman to 29 points, which was his lowest ever,” Maggard said. “To see my dad and Kelly Coleman interact is hilarious. They’ve not forgotten a thing. They are friendly but confrontational.”
The state championship gave the elder Maggard a leg up on his famous son.
“He never let me live the fact down that he won a state championship and I didn’t,” said Maggard with a laugh. “Even to this day, he will ask me where my state championship ring is. He likes to talk about it if asked, but it’s not anything he brings up. I was always proud of what he accomplished, and it greatly influenced me as an athlete.”
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Hallowed ground in Benham
Maggard first started to show signs he could be a star in the making when he played in the Tri-City Little League at Benham.
“That field is hallowed ground. The Tri-City Little League is near and dear to my heart,” said Maggard. “One of my biggest thrills athletically was when I got my Braves uniform. I played for the Braves, and Chuck Sturgill was my coach. A couple of years later, we won the first Tri-City Little League championship game. It was a thrill, and something I still talk about to this day.”
Tri-City made several state tournament appearances in the 1970s and 1980s, producing most of the stars that helped Roger Morris win an amazing nine regional baseball championships from 1983 to 1993, including seven in a row starting in 1985, the first three on teams that included Maggard.
“The foundation the Little League coaches gave us, Chuck Sturgill with the Braves and Tom Vicini, Howardy White and those guys instilled fundamentals in us,” Maggard said.
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Junior high football dynasty
Maggard learned plenty about winning in his junior high football days at Cumberland in a program led by Jody Gluck and John Brewer that won nine county championships from 1977 to 1989.
“We had three-a-day practices when I started at UK and people were complaining, but I was thinking to myself that I would rather do a week of fall practice camp than one day of a Jody Gluck-John Brewer practice,” Maggard said. “It was tough. They taught you to be a physical football player, because that’s the name of the game. Coach Gluck and coach Brewer taught us the value of being a teammate. Nobody is bigger than the other person and it takes 11 on each side of the football.
“We weren’t fancy. We didn’t run that many plays, but the plays we ran offensively we repeated over and over until it was second nature. That taught me something, that through repetition football is a game of muscle memory. I learned that, along with a ton more, from coach Gluck and coach Brewer. They demanded the best from us on every play, and that prepared me for the rest of my life.”
Maggard still carries with him a lot of fond memories from his junior high days.
“Thursday nights were almost as big as Friday nights,” he said. “My biggest thrill ever in athletics, and I was on teams at UK that beat Georgia and LSU, my biggest thrill was winning the Harlan County junior high football championship. We beat Wallins (20-14) after Wallins beat us 38-8 during the regular season. Wallins had a great team with David Ball and Tommy Hensley and others. I will never forget it, and the reason I won’t forget it is that Jody Gluck put tape on our helmets and wrote 38-8.
“That bus ride back from Cawood (High School) to Cumberland was probably the last pure sports moment I had, because we had all grown up together and here we were at 13 and 14. I always tell people my greatest sports thrill was beating Wallins in the county championship game.”
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Playing for 2 legends on the gridiron
Maggard joined one of the state’s top Class A football programs as a freshman, a year after Tim Saylor had led the Redskins to their first state championship game appearance. The Redskins went back to the state finals again in 1983 when Maggard was a freshman.
“Coach Saylor ran a college program in high school,” Maggard said. “He was the first coach I had heard of to have periods in practice. It was broken down into 5- or 10-minute increments to be more efficient. He was revolutionary in coaching in the mountains. He brought that from Carson-Newman and his college experience. He was a tremendous coach and his players absolutely loved him. He was tough, but they loved him because he was structured and they trusted the plays he called were going to score. Coach Saylor is a living legend in this county.”
Saylor left for Pineville after the 1983 season and a former Cumberland legend, Ron Cain, took over as coach.
“Coach Cain was a different style of coach, having won a state championship at Louisville Seneca,” Maggard said. “He played at UK, so his knowledge was out the roof. The players also loved him. It took us a couple of years to adjust, even though we had a lot of talent.”
After two seasons when the Redskins fell short of being a state contender, Cain led them to back to Louisville and the state finals in 1986 with Maggard earning all-state honors at both quarterback and defensive back. Patrick Evans was a star linebacker on that team and Edward “Pee Wee” Clark led the Cumberland ground game.
After beating Pikeville in the regional finals and Beechwood in the state semifinals, the Redskins fell to Heath in the state championship game.
“Not being able to put a state championship road sign coming into Cumberland is my biggest regret in sports, something that 30 years later still haunts me,” Maggard said. “It’s something I really wanted to do for the community. We came so close in so many sports. That’s my only regret in sports that we didn’t win one, not for the players but for the community.”
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Ralph Roberts and Cumberland hoops
Even though basketball ends up third when most rank Maggard’s athletic skills, he was a three-year starter during the glory days of the program under legendary coach Ralph Roberts.
“Coach Roberts won a lot of games, and he knew the game of basketball,” Maggard said. “The first time I saw a matchup zone was when he ran it. He also benefited from having great athletes, but he was a fundamental coach who did it his way. We adjusted to him and played his system. He was a tremendous coach.”
After Lynch High School closed in 1981, Cumberland soon found itself as the home of a dynamic mixture of those tremendous athletes that Maggard remembers. Watching Cumberland warm up during that time was not unlike watching a college team.
Cumberland probably had its best team in 1985 when Lewis Morris, Gary Amos and Joe Serrenho were seniors in a lineup that included future Harlem Globetrotter Paul Gaffney and Maggard. The Redskins lost in the last seconds of the regional finals that season to Clay County before the TIgers went on to finish as the state runner-up. Clay coach Bobby Keith has said the Redskins were as good as the Hopkinsville team that beat his squad in the state finals that year.
“Coach Keith told me the same story, and that makes me feel even worse. That year, with Gary Amos, Paul Gaffney, Lewis Morris, Joe Serrenho, myself, Tee Sundy and Otis Lewis, we were so athletic,” Maggard said. “Nowadays, if you have one kid on your team who can dunk it’s good, we had seven or eight. We played above the rim. Gary Amos was one of the best athletes I’ve been around, in high school or college. Lewis was the (Associated Press) male athlete of the year in the state in 1985 and could shoot the lights out. Paul Gaffney went on to play for the Globetrotters.”
Maggard said he learned quite a bit from his older teammates during the 1985 season, and not just about basketball.
“At the beginning of the year, Lewis or Paul or someone else would penetrate and throw it back out to me. I would pass up the shot, because I thought the older guys needed to score,” Maggard said. “We came off the floor during a timeout and Lewis chest punched me and told me to take the shot. I said during the Hall of Fame speech that Lewis taught me to take the shot. So, even if I was zero for 15 I kept shooting, because I didn’t want to get chest punched. That was senior leadership. He led by example and by fear, because he was not hesitant to confront you if you weren’t giving effort or if you were hurting our team’s chances to win. I learned from that and tried to carry it on.”
The Redskins couldn’t get out of a loaded 52nd District the next two years as (all-stater and future NAIA All-American) Nick Sanford and company led Cawood to the 1986 regional finals. Jeff Miller and the Harlan Green Dragons fell to Cawood in the district finals in a matchup of two of the state’s all-time winningest coaches with Mike Jones at Cawood and Billy Hicks at Harlan.
“I don’t think people throughout the state knew how good Nick Sanford was,” Maggard said. “I hear people talk about Rex Chapman and others, but Nick Sanford was the best player I’ve ever played against, bar none. There were so many great athletes in this county back then.”
That talent level countywide carried over into other sports.
“We had trouble scheduling in football, so we played teams like Belfry and Corbin, but the best team we played all year was Cawood,” Maggard said. “They were good enough to win a state championship the last two years I was in high school.”
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Freddie Maggard was a standout pitcher/center fielder for the Cumberland Redskins on regional championship teams in 1985, 1986 and 1987. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals.

Learning to seek perfection
Of all the great coaches Maggard had growing up, none led a more dominant program than Roger Morris did with baseball. Maggard was a star center fielder and pitcher on regional championship teams in 1985, 1986 and 1987, the start of an amazing seven-year run of titles.
“He’s a Harlan County legend,” Maggard said. “I think it’s safe to say he was intense, but he didn’t ask for perfect baseball, he asked for smart baseball. He expected perfection from each player. It was a very strange dynamic, but each player would live and die for him.”
Morris was legendary for his grueling practices and almost impossible demands.
“Perfectionist would be a word to describe Roger Morris, because Roger Morris expected perfection from us,” Maggard said. “In all my years of athletics, even at UK on the highest level of college football, Roger Morris was by far the best technical teacher and coach I ever played for. It’s not even close.
Cumberland started its string of seven straight championships in 1985 with a pitching rotation that included Lewis Morris, Otis Lewis and Maggard. The Redskins made their first and only appearance in the state final four that season after winning the sectional tournament.
Many thought the Redskins would make it back to the final four in 1987 with Maggard and Lewis, the top two pitchers in eastern Kentucky, in the same rotation. Cumberland lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to M.C. Napier in the sectional finals — the only run scored on an error as Maggard was the hard-luck loser.
“I still have nightmares to this day of not winning a state championship at Cumberland,” Maggard said. “People think I’m crazy when I tell them that. My dream is that I’m going back to play a baseball or football game for Cumberland, never UK, but I can’t get on the field….I can’t find my helmet, I can’t find my glove. I think part of that is, it hurt me so bad to not win a state championship with that team.”
Cumberland was the state’s top Class A program during the 1980s, but the state tournament for Class A schools didn’t start until the 1990s.
“I can only imagine how many state championships Cumberland would have if the All “A” Classic had started during that great era,” he said.
Like Saylor and Roberts in the other major sports, Morris’ timing was good as he arrived at Cumberland High School in 1982, just after Lynch closed and in the days when the mining industry was still going strong. Enrollment at Cumberland at that time was almost double what it was when the school closed in 2008.
“We had some great teams and great players who came out of that program,” Maggard said. “He was a great coach, but he also benefited from a great wave of talent.”
Cumberland’s long run of titles, Maggard contends, forced other programs in the region to improve.
“He transitioned baseball in this part of the state to a higher level,” Maggard said. “Cumberland was in the 14th Region, then came back to the 13th, and he implemented simple things you have now like batting shirts, pinstripe jerseys and pants with maroon cleats. Roger Morris coached the baseball team at a professional level, and he expected us to conduct ourselves as professionals. He’s the best teacher and coach I’ve had.
“Coach Morris taught fundamentals and implemented stations, just for hitting,” Maggard said. “He’d have hitting a tire, then wiffle balls in the cage and then you’d rotate to the plate. We even had sliding practice. He was so detailed. Every detail was covered.”
While Maggard and Lewis (who went on to play at Western Kentucky University) received a majority of the publicity as pitchers and hitters on the 1986 and 1987 teams, the Redskins were far from a two-man team. Current Harlan County coach John Lewis was a four-year starter at catcher, and Chris Hernandez was the steady second baseman who, like Maggard and Lewis, graduated in 1987.
“Chris Hernandez was his boy, and he is to this day,” said Maggard with a laugh about his old friend and teammate. “Chris was incredible with fundamentals. He worked harder than anybody and gave his all to that program, and ‘Rog’ loved him and still does.”
David Shoupe was a young outfielder on those teams with Maggard before developing into a star on teams later in the 1980s. Shoupe was best known for his hitting, which earned him a scholarship to Morehead State, but was also one of three outstanding lefty pitchers on the late 80s teams, along with Mike Dudash and Brian Schubert.
Cumberland continued its run of regional titles into the 1990s, a period of dominance unmatched in southeastern Kentucky history.
“I don’t think Roger Morris, historically, is appreciated as much as he should be,” Maggard said. “I feel Roger Morris was a pioneer and should be recognized as such. He changed the landscape of baseball across southeastern Kentucky, especially in this region. People had to improve or get run ruled, and that’s due to what coach Morris did at Cumberland. It’s unbelievable.”
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A choice after high school
Maggard had more options than most high school stars when his prep career ended. UK coach Jerry Claiborne had offered a football scholarship that Maggard signed, but the decision became more complicated when the Kansas City Royals drafted Maggard in June of that year to play professional baseball.
“It was easy at first. I didn’t know much about the Major League draft, so I didn’t understand it,” Maggard said. “I got to UK and went through fall camp and started having second thoughts. I did some research and found out that if I attended the first class I was locked into UK. My dad came to Lexington and we had some serious discussions about it. The plan was to earn my starting position at UK, then play baseball at UK and go into the draft later.
“I earned my starting position, but then I had my first shoulder injury and missed baseball, and then it was over. What drove me to UK is that I grew up in Kentucky, the university offered me a free education to play football and it was my obligation to play at the university. Maybe that’s old-fashioned, but that’s what I thought.”
It didn’t take Maggard long to earn playing time at Kentucky, working his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore. He passed for 1,515 yards in 1989 and 1,051 yards in 1990, connecting on six touchdowns each season. His 2,566 yards passing place him 14th all time among UK quarterbacks. He’s seventh all-time in completion percentage (among quarterbacks with at least 200 completions) at 57 percent.
“It was a thrill. I found myself a little awe struck playing at Alabama. Playing on TV was cool and taking a plane to a game was fun,” he said. “Representing the commonwealth and UK was an honor, but it wasn’t as fun as playing at Cumberland High School because it is a business. I learned that my freshman year when one of our top players (a future NFL player) got hurt in practice. I was expecting everyone to stop and the coaches go over, but the only thing the coaches said was to move the drill. It’s a little different than high school. My time at Cumberland is something I cherish more, playing with guys in junior high and high school that I grew up with.”
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Let the recruiters sort it out
Maggard goes against the grain by advising today’s young players to avoid specialization and play as many sports as they want in high school, noting that only the best athletes will receive Division I scholarships.
“What I’d like to tell the younger guys watching this is to enjoy playing sports,” Maggard said. “I think sometimes specialization, like travel ball, takes away from that community feeling. The friendships, connections and lessons learned, even at that Little League level, will carry them the rest of their life.”
Maggard knows from experience how the three sports he played worked together to make him the athlete he became.
“A quarterback is more prepared for a two-minute drive if he has been in a critical last minute free throw shooting situation or been up to bat with two outs, down one run with two on in the seventh inning. All the sports build together and make a more well-rounded athlete,” he said. “At times, specialization can minimize the high school and junior high coaches, and I’m a big advocate of the people who take their time to coach these athletes. I think playing for the name on the front of the jersey is so important.”
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Staying involved in sports
Maggard went on to work with the Kentucky National Guard after leaving UK and is now the Kentucky National Guard’s community relations liaison.
He also maintains a connection to UK sports as a commentator/writer with Kentucky Sports Radio. He appears on the Monday Morning Quarterback show with Tom Leach during the season.
“It’s fun. I’ve been separated from UK for several years, so I feel I can be objective,” he said. “I do the recruiting and signing day shows for UK, and the pro day shows.”