Wellness Park wall to honor Sheppard family, local basketball teams

Mar. 6—Just a few hours before Laurel County native Reed Sheppard hit the winning basket during the Feb. 27 game against Mississippi, tourism officials were discussing honoring him and his family.

County tourism board member Tom Handy, former high school coaches Roy Bowling and Lawrence Kuhl and James Adams of Adams Signs approached the London City Tourism Commission with a proposal to honor former basketball teams at one of the columns at the Wellness Park. The Wellness Park is maintained by the London Tourist Commission as a city park.

That tall triangular column is the one beside the basketball courts and would be designated as the Sheppard Family Basketball Court. The wall would feature plaques with the names of players of high school teams from Laurel County that have participated in state championship games.

Kuhl, who coached football at London High School and assisted Bowling while he coached baseball at Laurel County High, said basketball has been the county's biggest sport. Bowling went on to coach the Laurel County Lady Cardinals, winning three state championship titles and making other appearances in the KHSAA tournament.

Bowling said he'd been watching basketball in Laurel County since 1948. He then recited the statistics of championship and Sweet 16 teams.

"We have nine champions that won the state tournament," Bowling said. "London won it in 1926 and went to Chicago and won national championship. Hazel Green has won it (state championship) one time, Laurel County boys won it one time; Laurel County girls, five times, and South Laurel boys, one time. That's nine."

Bowling then listed all the teams that have made appearances in the Sweet 16 state tournament (KHSAA) over the years.

"Every school in Laurel County except East Bernstadt has been to the state tournament. Bush went one time; Lily went one time, London, three times; Hazel Green, six times; Laurel County boys six times, Laurel County girls, 10 times, South Laurel boys, seven times; South Laurel girls three times, North Laurel boys, three times, North Laurel girls, two times — showing 51 times. I guarantee that no other county in the state can say that."

Bowling went on to say the basketball courts could host teams and increase tourism, while players could view the success of past teams and be inspired by that success.

"We could have 3-on-3 leagues and get teams and it'd be a sight of the 3-on-3 teams we'd bring in here," he added.

Kuhl described the significance of the honorary wall of basketball teams.

"When you go in by the library, you'll be able to look directly to the column. With 51 plaques, there will be over 1,000 athletes' names appear out there," Kuhl said. "All these families that come when we do the dedication, and when they come home to visit, they'll want to go out there."

Kuhl said although he had coached football and Bowling had coached baseball, basketball is the dominant sport in the county.

"But there's nothing excels like the basketball and it's a tribute to these players and these families and these teams," he said, adding that he hoped to have a dedication in spring.

"We hope to get Sheppard family involved in this, of course, from the contributions they've made and the ambassadors they've been for London and Laurel County by them playing here — Staci and of course marrying Jeff, and now their son — is a real tribute too for our city and county."

"If we could involve the Sheppard family, they could be recruiters of teams," Handy said. "There could be three-man teams, girls teams, different groups, and have teams down there to bring folks in and use it as an attraction to build up our tourism, hotels, restaurants, whatever."

No monetary donation was asked of the city tourism board; rather the group was there to ask permission to use that particular column at the Wellness Park since it is overseen by the City Tourism Parks division.

Handy reiterated the urgency of city tourism board making a decision on the proposition.

"Timing is essential on this. It'll be June before we can get this done. If you approve this, we can move on and solicit names of the deceased (players) and getting everything so we can have a dedication before school starts," he said.

Adams then asked for any questions regarding the plaques to honor former players and teams, outlining how the display would look.

"The squares are 10x15, there are 40 of them, with 6" space between each one and 6" between the rows horizontally. There is another size for the championship teams," he explained. "But time is essential. Each individual plaque has different wording. It takes 8 days and then I approve it."

He added that the column needed to be pressure washed and painted before the plaques were installed. That brought a question from board member Starr Handy regarding the durability of the paint on that column.

"Painting is not my expertise," Adams said, but most large buildings, like Walmart and others, last 10 years, 20 years."

Kuhl, who spearheaded the Scott Rose Playground at the Wellness Park, said the process with the entrance columns there were pressure washed first, coated with primer, painted, and sealant applied.

City tourism chair Phil Smith said the group was asking for no money, just asking for the space, with a motion being made to allow the project to move forward. That motion was seconded and approved unanimously.

Commissioner Chase Carson praised Kuhl and Bowling for their endless contributions to the community.

"You all have done a lot for the youth here and I'd like to have a round of applause for these two legends," he said as the crowd applauded the two former coaches.

Handy then outlined some future plans for the basketball courts.

"Once we get this done, the city and county tourism should work together and go all around the state involving bringing people into London," he said. "This (tournament) could be all age groups and be great tourism events and with the Sheppard name out there, that's going to be a magnet."