By LARRY VAUGHT
Ask former Kentucky basketball coach Joe Hall who did as much — or maybe more — to help develop UK fan support and he has a quick answer.
“Oscar Combs did more to develop fan support than anybody. He did a service for the University of Kentucky that could not have been bought at any price,” said Hall.
What Combs did was start the Cats’ Pause, a weekly publication devoted to UK sports, in 1976. He had worked for the Hazard Herald from 1965-69 before eventually working for and then buying the Eastern Kentucky Voice. He sold that in 1975 and started the Cats’ Pause in 1976.
Getting Hall on board immediately with the Cats’ Pause was a major bonus for Combs, who had a high of 24,000 weekly subscribers before selling the publication in 1997.
“Oscar should absolutely in the UK Athletics Hall of Fame,” Hall said. “He satisfied fans by making UK news available all over the country with his publication. He was the spokesman for all UK sports. Everybody waited on their mailman to bring the Cats’ Pause.”
Hall remembers Combs going to then UK athletics director Cliff Hagan and football coach Fran Curci for their thoughts before launching the Cats’ Pause. Hall laughs when he remember Combs telling him that if Hagan, Curci or Hall thought it was a bad idea, he would not start the publication
“Curci said he had to approve everything he wrote. Hagan said we already have a sports information staff. I said, ‘Oscar it is the best idea I have ever heard. It will satisfy fans like they never dreamed of being satisfied. I think it would be the greatest service you could do,’” Hall said.
It helped Combs that Hall was upset with the UK sports information department at the time and was looking for ways to promote his basketball program.
He cited the time Chuck Verderber, one of his players, was working a summer job using a jackhammer tearing up Lexington streets. He was studying to be a dentist.
“I said what a story. Future UK dentist running a jackhammer on city streets and later being working on the mouths of people of this state with a different kind of drill. They wouldn’t write it up. They said nobody would be interested in the summer in what is going on with basketball,” Hall said.
He remembered another time when he wanted sports information to promote Kevin Grevey for All-American honors. Hall said he often got promotional material from other schools on their star players, but he never saw UK send out anything like that.
“I just asked, ‘What are you doing for Grevey,’” Hall said. “The sports information director said, ‘I don’t believe in paper All-Americans.’ I told him he was in the wrong business. I couldn’t believe it. They wouldn’t do anything. Oscar changed all that stuff with the stories he put out there to tell me about UK basketball and other sports.”
Hall doesn’t vote on UK Athletics Hall of Fame inductees. If he did, Combs would already be a member just like he is in the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.
“I think everybody that knows him would agree that Oscar should be in the Hall of Fame. Now somebody might be jealous of him, but I think he is very deserving for so many reasons,” Hall said.
“There are contributors in the National Basketball Hall of Fame, so you can have contributors in the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. I would think there are several who have been overlooked from that perspective and Oscar certainly leads the list. Nobody did more for UK athletics than Oscar.”
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