Counties served up treasured experiences

many favorites among list of 78 columns

mstory@herald-leader.comAugust 14, 2011 

It took me eight years to complete the 78 stories that comprise the full series "A Story for Every County." For those of you scoring at home, World War II lasted only six years.

Yet I will always consider the time it took to report and write the 78 "county columns" to have been exceedingly well spent.

Because of the series, I sat in Wilbur Hackett's living room (Jefferson County) and heard the former University of Kentucky linebacker tell what it was really like — death threats before a road game against Mississippi — to be the first black regular in a major sport at UK.

Standing on the gym floor at the old Carr Creek High School (Knott County), I got to make a shot on the court of one of the most enchanted locales in Kentucky basketball lore.

Then there was spending an afternoon with Wah Wah Jones (Harlan County) listening to stories of what it was like when Jones was both a football star for Bear Bryant and a basketball star for Adolph Rupp at UK.

If you grew up loving sports in the commonwealth, how can you not get a thrill from experiences like those?

There are three questions I have been most asked about the "county columns" since the series began (Powell County) in September 2003.

1. Where did the idea come from?

Answer: There is a long history in newspapers for metro columnists to take a phone book, throw a dart at it and write about the person on whose name it lands. I was looking for a sports twist on that tradition. In our case, we drew the order of the counties out of a hat.

2. Why not do all 120 Kentucky counties?

Answer: I considered 120, but I felt I couldn't justify the massive time commitment it would take to drive to counties in deep Western Kentucky to work on stories month after month. The 78 came from the number of counties in which the Herald-Leader circulated when the series started in 2003.

3. Did I have a favorite story from the series?

Answer: The stories that I got the most reader response to were normally when I wrote about someone famous from a particular county. That's one reason I long planned to write about Joe B. Hall once Harrison County was drawn to be the last in the series.

Usually, however, the stories that meant the most to me were about young people, often high school students, who had faced adversity and were fighting to overcome it.

You aren't going to see much more fortitude than Kacy Stewart (Bell County) showed when she returned to play her senior season of high school basketball five weeks after giving birth.

Want desire? Born with a heart defect, Cobee Goode (Casey County) had such a strong yearning to play high school football that he went through a heart operation so he could play at least one year, his senior season.

Want compassion? That was what coaches showed Cody Woolums (Garrard County) by keeping him on the sidelines for games with the Garrard County High football program after a construction accident left the wide receiver paralyzed.

The "county columns" were a reason to tell stories about some extraordinary Kentuckians that otherwise we would have had no reason to tell.

I had a blast. Hope it was eight years well spent for you, too.

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