The way Ray Callahan remembers, it was far from a given that Danville would win the Class AA state championship when the 1962 football season started.
“We were coming off a bad year in 1960 and had gone 8-2 in 1961 and we had some guys that had taken a lot from some really good older players earlier in their careers. They were willing to work hard and it turned into a really good team,” said Callahan.
Callahan will be back in Danville Saturday to be inducted into the Danville Schools Athletics Hall of Fame. He was named the 1962 Kentucky High School Football Coach of the Year. His 1959 team that went 8-2-1 won the Central Kentucky Conference championship.
Callahan, a starting guard at Kentucky from 1952-1954 for coaches Bear Bryant and Blanton Collier, left Danville to become an assistant coach at UK and then went to Cincinnati where he eventually was head coach for three years. After that he moved to professional football and was an assistant coach for 16 years before retiring.
“This honor is really a big deal for me because I¿had some great guys play for me,” Callahan, who lives in Virginia now, said. “I remember the players and the things they did. It has been quite a while since I¿have been back to Danville and I¿am really looking forward to it.
“It was just a great, great group of people there. The teachers, cheerleaders ... what a great atmosphere. I¿had a great group of young guys that really were eager to play and willing to work hard in the hot weather. It was very pleasurable. I really did push them on the field. We worked hard.
“Of course, I was a young, upstart coach and that was my first head coaching job. I¿had a lot of great help there, including some guys not with us any more. I don’t get around too well myself. I am in a wheelchair now. A couple of weeks ago I¿had to go in the hospital. I am not in great shape, but I am coming because this means a lot to me. My wife won’t be able to come because she recently fell and broke her hip, so my daughter is arranging everything.”
Many of his former players are also coming back for his induction ceremony at halftime of Danville’s game against Lincoln County in the Bob Allen Pigskin Classic Saturday night.
The players have a get-together planned for Friday night at Millennium Park and will attend the school’s hall of fame reception on Saturday. Johnny Jackson, a starter on the 1962 state title team, has helped organize the semi-reunion and has a number of Callahan’s players committed to be here. They include Brent Arnold, John Baily, Donnie Bibb, Sammy Burke, Joe Burke, Bill Critchfield, Jim Critchfield, Henry Daily, Joe Gibson, Phillip Goldston, Billy Hainsworth, Alex Jackson, Elmer Jackson, Bill Payne, Billy Rulon, John Sanders, Mike Swain, David Taylor, Doug Terry, Clyd Wise, Bing Walters and Donnie Young.
“It means a lot to know all those players are coming,” Callahan, who also coached golf at Danville, said. “That’s why I¿had to make sure I could get there. My years at Danville did help shape my future coaching career. My plan was to put fire in them (the players) and stuff like that. It was a big deal to me to coach in Danville.”
Johnny ¿Jackson, who now lives in Texas, says he has many strong memories about his years under Callahan.
“His honesty and integrity. You never had any doubts concerning his desires for us to be the best we could be,” Jackson said. “He was uncopromising. I can’t recall any example of him sacrificing or not standing behind his morals/ethics. He cared about his players. He knew and tuaght us fundamental football and life skills.
“I remember his restraint at time. I remember one particular incident in practice when I thought I was about to feel — as in absorb a hit — his wrath, which was totally appropriate. He restrained himself. I never forgot it. Impressiving ‘pausing when agitated’ example.”
Jackson said Callahan “earned the respect” of his players.
“We were willing to do whatever he told us, or tried to as best we could, because we knew he believed in us and what he was telling us,” Jackson said, “He let us grown under his tutelage. Remember, this was a time when many/most of hte calls were made on the field by the quarterback. He also had the confidence of his assistans, and he had the confidence in them and gave them the authority and responsibility to do their jobs. We could talk with him and we listened to him.”
Jackson said Callahan was a “father figure” to him when he needed that.
“My own father was dealing with his own issues during this time, making changes he needed in his life and starting a new life with his new wife, which only later I¿came to understand and completely accept, but not then. I suspect others on our team had similar conections with Coach,” Jackson said. “I still call him Coach or Mr. Callahan 90 percent of the time out of respect for what he meant and who he was.¿I am trying to get comfortable calling him Ray.”
Jackson says so many players are coming to see Callahan because of what he did for them just as other Danville faculty members like Harry Fitzpatrick, Morris Chapman, Doc Biles, Edna Moss, Leon Kingsolver, Dick Horn, Ken Snowden, Alex Stevens, Dave Cottrell, Mac Arthur and Don Rawlings did for him and his teammates.
It’s not hard for Jackson to cite his best memory from that 1962 championship season under Callahan.
“What a great group of people to have been with. How fortunate we were to be there at the confluence of opportunity, personalities and place,” Jackson said. “The first official state championship team — only because of the circumstance and timing. I suspect had the playoff system been in effect longer, we would not have been the first. Those that came before us made it all possible by establishing the traditions which continue today.”