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1958 National Champion Ed Beck


More than 50 years ago Dale Polley was living in Hopkinsville and he can remember his parents taking him to Madisonville to hear Ed Beck preach.

“To this day I remember part of his sermon — pretty impressive for a young boy to remember something positive that long ago that happened at church,” Polley, who now lives in Nashville and is a past chairman of the Music City Bowl, said.

About a year later Beck, a starter on UK’s 1958 national championship team, came to Hopkinsville to lead a revival at Polley’s church, First United Methodist Church.

“While Ed was in Hopkinsville for this revival he stayed at our house. I remember watching TV with him,” Polley said. “I was in awe of him. He was tall, a star basketball player, a minister, but he was a nice man with a great story that he wrote about in one of his books.

“I have laughed many times years later thinking about Ed showering in our guest room shower because it was a small and short shower.”

Polley got to see Beck at Rupp Arena before the Cats beat Auburn. Beck was part for a celebration of UK’s 1958 national championship and Polley found him before the game. He relayed the story about Beck staying at his house in Hopkinsville.

“He lit up. I wish we had had more time to talk about that time in Hopkinsville and all that has happened since then but he was being quickly escorted to the game,” Polley said. “He was gracious to have his picture taken with me.  Ed Beck is a fine man of God and has led many people in that direction along their spiritual journey.”

Wally Bryan, the former mayor of Hopkinsville, says he was only 10 years old when Beck was playing for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky. He remembered Rupp not wanting his players to be married but made an exception for Beck, who was from Georgia.

“Beck was the type character-player who I’d pick for a role model for my grandson, William,” Bryan said.
He remembers a Beck visit to Hopkinsville to preach, too.
“He was wonderful, and talked as part of a Grief Conference,” Bryan said.
He still has a “damaged” picture of the 1958 national championship team that has three autographs — Rupp, assistant coach Harry Lancaster and Beck — that he got when his father took him to Nashville to watch UK play Vanderbilt and he went on the floor after the game to ask for the autographs.
“First John 2:6 is the verse he placed beside his autograph,” Bryan said about Beck.

Beck’s first wife, a registered nurse, was diagnosed with “rapid moving” Hodgkin’s disease that there was no cure or even treatment for in the 1950’s.

“We knew her time on earth would be short lived,” Beck said. “Adolph bent over backwards to make her feel welcome the one year she came to Lexington. He spent hours with her in his office in private conversation. I was never privy to them and my wife never shared what Adolph said. It was a total confidential relationship.”

Beck said the public image of Rupp, who was viewed as non-forgiving by some fans and a racist by others, the private image of the coach were very different.

“I saw part of Adolph Rupp as a player under very challenging circumstances that the public never saw,” Beck said. “He became more than a coach. He was not just my mentor, but my friend.

“Any time she (Beck’s wife) was able to be with the team, he treated her like a queen. I remember in Atlanta when we were playing Georgia Tech. She got out of the hospital in Macon (Ga.) and ate with us at the pregame meal. You didn’t do that. Adolph’s wife never ate with us.”

Beck’s wife died his junior year after the NCAA Tournament (UK lost in the second round in Lexington to Michigan State). Both Rupp and assistant coach Harry Lancaster made the drive to Georgia to be part of her funeral service.

“The next day they were back in Lexington for our basketball banquet — I wasn’t there — and he (Rupp) talked about her and what she meant to the team. He dedicated the 58 season to her,” Beck said. “That was part of the cohesiveness that brought our team together even closer.”

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