For ex-Cat, 'Senior Day' 61 years late

It was 64 years ago when Henry Clay High School product Tom Givhan lived out his boyhood ambition: Wearing the football uniform of the Kentucky Wildcats as a backup guard.

Had there not been a life complication — World War II turned out to be hell on one's personal planning — Givhan might have played his senior year of football in the fall of 1947.

But instead of a sophomore year wearing UK blue and white, Givhan was in the uniform of the United State Marines in the final year of the worldwide war.

By the time he got back to UK on the G.I. bill, Bear Bryant was elevating Kentucky football to a national power. A guy who was not a starter during the talent-thin, War-impacted season of 1944 didn't even try to return to the Bryant-era UK roster.

As an adult, Givhan became prominent in Kentucky legal circles, serving five terms as Bullitt County attorney and as chairman of the judiciary committee as a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Yet he always regretted that his college football experience was cut short.

So 61 years later, Givhan's family has decided to celebrate his "Senior Day" right along with the departing Kentucky football class of 2008.

Before Dicky Lyons Jr., Braxton Kelley & Co. say goodbye to Commonwealth Stadium fans Saturday night prior to the Vanderbilt game, a reception here in Lexington will honor an 82-year-old former UK guard.

"We wanted to do something perfect for him," said Ellen Givhan, one of Tom's three children. "He always said his regret was he wished he had finished his football."

Today, football players at Henry Clay play on the John G. Heber Field.

When Tom Givhan played football at the school, he played for John G. Heber.

"Two or three of us came over from Morton Junior High to work with the Henry Clay varsity," Givhan remembers. "They gave us the worst equipment they had. We had to wear our own shoes. The seniors are in cleats and we're out there in camel-back shoes."

Today, Lexington high school football stars such as current Wildcats freshmen Winston Guy and Aaron Boyd are lavishly wooed by UK recruiters.

When Tom Givhan was a Henry Clay senior, he earned his way onto the UK roster for 1944 by participating in Kentucky's spring practices.

To UK students of 2008, the name Kirwan — as in A.D. Kirwan — means the dormitories that bear that name.

For Givhan, Kirwan was his UK football coach. Before Kirwan became the university's seventh president, he spent six years coaching Wildcats football.

His final year was Givhan's season in 1944. A UK team led by All-SEC tackle Wash Serini finished 3-6.

One thing hasn't changed from then to now. Kentucky lost to Tennessee that year — twice.

Though our country is presently fighting two wars, the privileged world of big-time athletes, be they college or pro, is largely untouched.

It was not so in the time of full-mobilization that was World War II.

"I turned 18 during my freshman year and I got my draft letter," Givhan recalls. "It said 'Greetings, you've been selected.' That's what we called it. People would say 'Did you get your Greetings?' And you'd say 'Yeah, I got my greetings.'"

One of the boys Givhan had grown up with in Lexington had already been killed fighting the Japanese. Another had been badly injured.

"I just wanted to kill Japanese," Givhan says of his pre-military mind-set.

He volunteered for the Marines, wound up serving in a sea-going assignment on the U.S.S. Fall River.

By the time the war ended and Givhan got back to UK, Bear Bryant was running the football operation and the ability level needed to play had climbed.

"I was a lot more serious student when I got back from the war," Givhan said.

Before he left UK, Givhan had a law degree and had met the woman, Sharon Rose Richard, who would become his wife of 40 years (she died in 1989).

Givhan landed in Bullitt County (just south of Louisville), established a legal and political career and raised three kids.

Yet he never quite got the football regrets out of his system.

Which is why, after some six decades, Givhan's family is throwing a "Senior Day" just for him.