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Larry Vaught: The Tribute

Interviewing the most famous equipment manager in sports, Mr. Wildcat, Bill Keightley.

Danville, Kentucky.

I grew up there, primarily during the 1970s. My earliest sports memories centered around the local high school scene, primarily the Danville Admirals. In an era before the internet, before talk radio, and before the proliferation of cable TV options, most people in those days relied on newspapers for news about their favorite sports teams.

The local newspaper in Danville is the Advocate-Messenger. In that time, in that place, it was THE voice of all local sports. The sports editor was a man named Bill Vaught. Bill had a son- Larry, you may have heard of him- who joined him at the A-M in 1974. Together, they were my introduction to the world of sports journalism. To this day, I can still remember rushing outside early on cold Sunday mornings to get the weekend edition. I went straight to the sports page to read all about the Admirals’ games, and before long I was just as engrossed- eventually more so- by the exploits of our beloved Kentucky Wildcats. And it all started with the Vaughts, and in particular Larry. I’m sure the same is true for thousands more in the area around Danville, a sports-rich region with some of the state’s most storied high school traditions and, of course, one of many hotbeds in the Commonwealth for the Big Blue Nation.

Recently, an out-of-state corporate entity purchased the Advocate-Messenger. For no reason that anyone within shouting distance of sanity can discern, the decision was made to reduce the paper’s coverage of local sports. And so, after 40 years of distinguished (no… not good enough; given all his accomplishments: legendary) service, the paper decided to eliminate Larry’s position.

Again: they parted ways with a multiple-award winning sportswriter with the closest ties imaginable to UK athletics in UK-mad central Kentucky.

Like I said, not within shouting distance of sanity.

Among Larry’s many, many friends in Danville is my dear friend and new colleague, Tina Cox. Tina, being Tina, and so close to Larry, decided that to celebrate a new phase in Larry’s career, it would be nice to have a tribute dinner (I hesitate to call it a retirement party!) for him. The event was held last night in Danville, and to say that Tina knocked it out of the park is pure understatement. As Larry told her this morning on Facebook:

“Tina Cox, I love you. Last night was so special for me thanks to you… Not sure anything can ever top last night for me”

Yes, Larry, to say the least it would be difficult!

There was a myriad of local and state sports figures who took the time to drive- in many cases for several hours- to Danville to honor Larry. In all, there were approximately 300 in attendance, a figure that also included many local residents who came out of respect for and friendship with Larry. Among the notables who spoke were:

*Ryan Lemond, central Kentucky’s pied piper of sports. Ryan was the emcee for the night, and he did his usual outstanding job. (I was fortunate enough to sit next to his beautiful wife Amanda, and I found out that she’s just as awesome as Ryan says she is on air)

*Dennis Johnson, the former UK and NFL defensive end from Harrodsburg, and now the head coach at Woodford County. He praised Larry for his role in his development;

*Tony Neely, Assistant Athletics Director at Kentucky;

*Chuck Smith, the football coach who turned Boyle County into the state power it is today, and also a former assistant at UK;

*Mercer County football coach David Buchanan, who gave a moving tribute to his friendship with Larry;

*Jacob Tamme, the former UK tight end and current pro footballer who, like Dennis Johnson, was so grateful for his relationship with Larry;

*Freddie Maggard, the outspoken former Kentucky quarterback-turned journalist. Maggard gave a lively and funny tribute to Larry which was quite entertaining;

*And last, but not least, John Short, the inveterate radio call-in show guest who called Larry a “great American,” and Johnson County’s Marlana VanHoose, the little girl with the big voice who sang a stirring version of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

The highlight of the night came next. Tina had compiled several tribute videos for those who couldn’t make it. The first was from none other than Dick Vitale, who would have been in attendance had the event occurred last week, when it was originally scheduled (he was in town for the UK game). Former UK assistant/current Troy head coach Neal Brown and WLEX sports anchor Alan Cutler also provided clips. The coda was a collection of photos from Larry’s long career, which included shots of him with Joe B. Hall, Hal Mumme, Rick Robey, and Jack Givens, among dozens of others.

Just incredible stuff from an incredible career!

On a personal note: I don’t know Larry nearly as well as I would like to, but he has figured prominently in my life simply because of my long readership and his connection to my beloved Kentucky Wildcats. This isn’t an ending for Larry. Rather, it’s a new beginning that promises to see his star rise even further. As he reminded us all last night, his media presence will do nothing but widen now. There will be more radio and TV appearances along with his syndicated column (Vaught’s Views), his blog, and numerous other ventures yet unimagined.

And that is good news for every sports fan in the Commonwealth!

4 Comments

  1. Mark Russell says:

    This is a great story and video tribute to a wonderful journalist in my hometown.
    Jeff, you did a great job. So many faces and memories in the video. My favorites are with Larry’s dad, Bill, and with Cawood. Great job Jeff!

  2. Steve says:

    All too often we become fans of celebrities (and I would say Larry Vaught has reached celebrity status, deservedly so) only to find that their personal demeanor is not something to be admired. I worked for many years with Larry and I can say with confidence that he is a class act. He was great to work with at the Advocate. On those Saturdays when the Cats had a late game, he’d get his articles, his insightful, award-winning articles, submitted in an amazingly short time after the game ended. I asked him about it once and he said he did it because he didn’t want to work all night and he didn’t want those of us down the line to have to work all night either. I would leave the building around midnight and there’d be cars lined up out front with people waiting for the hot-off-the-press Sunday edition and Larry’s take on the game. They liked seeing me come out because that meant the presses had started running and they didn’t have much longer to wait. And I’d have a smile on my face and a bounce to my step because I’d played a part in producing a product that included Larry’s work. His top-quality work, written by an even higher quality person. And I know Larry came by it naturally because I also had the pleasure of working with his dad, Bill. Best wishes, Larry, in whatever lies ahead.

  3. Larry Vaught says:

    Appreciate that a lot Mark

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