E.A. Couch, who was among the starting five of the 1956 Carr Creek basketball team that won the state high school championship — and who played for legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp — died Wednesday at his home in Paintsville after a long battle with lung cancer.
He was 75.
"He was an excellent ball shooter. A fine gentleman," said Freddie Maggard of Corbin, a guard on the 1956 Carr Creek team.
Emory Allen Couch was named for his paternal grandfather, but he was called "E.A." to distinguish grandfather from grandson.
"He was one the best-natured, sweetest-natured guys that you could ever want to be around in your life," said Paul Honeycutt of Lexington, a longtime friend of Mr. Couch. "He didn't smoke. He didn't curse. He loved to hunt and fish.
"He was an avid squirrel hunter. E.A. would travel through the woods. He'd go miles and miles, while I'd sit and wait," Honeycutt said.
The Carr Creek team was an iconic Eastern Kentucky team that was the subject of books and part of a documentary film on Kentucky basketball. Carr Creek beat Central City, Allen County, Wayland and Henderson to capture what would be the famed school's one and only state championship.
It was vindication for the tiny school (its graduating class in 1956 had only 40 members), which in the 1928 state championship game lost to Ashland 13-11 after four overtimes. The 1928 team had no indoor court, only baskets nailed to trees; no uniforms, so they played in overalls; and no transportation, so they rode to games on horseback.
With only seconds remaining in the 1956 Central City game, Mr. Couch's two free throws before a packed house at UK's Memorial Coliseum pushed the game into overtime, after which the team won the game and, eventually, the championship, Maggard said.
"I was always so thankful that it was E.A. at the free-throw line and not me," teammate and later brother-in-law Jim Calhoun would say years later.
The Carr Creek school was consolidated into Knott County Central High School in Hindman in the 1970s.
Mr. Couch married his high-school sweetheart, Janie Calhoun, sister of Jim Calhoun and a cheerleader at Carr Creek.
"He was an unassuming player, but he was so gifted and had such great vision of the basketball floor. He did so many little things that made the difference, and he didn't have to have attention," Janie Couch said in a telephone interview. "I was valedictorian of that class, and really was kind of a geek, but he just totally changed my life."
After high school, Mr. Couch played basketball under Rupp for two years, then transferred to the University of Dayton in Ohio. He graduated in 1962 with a degree in business administration.
Mr. Couch worked for Ford Motor Co.'s oil-filter division in Sandusky, Ohio, for 15 years. The family moved back to Kentucky, where Mr. Couch worked for various employers, including CLD Coal, American Standard, Parker Seal Group and the Carl D. Perkins Rehabilitation Center. He also worked as a security guard at Jennie Wiley State Resort Park.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Joey, a pharmaceutical salesman who was an all-SEC defensive lineman for the UK football team; and David, a West Point graduate who is commissioner for education technology in grades K-12 for the state Department of Education.
Visitation will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Breathitt County Funeral Home in Jackson. Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home. Burial will be in Jackson Cemetery.