Lynch East Main: once king of the hills and state
BY MIKE FIELDS
LYNCH – Dig into the history of Kentucky high school football and one shiny nugget you’ll uncover is that the first official state champion hailed from this tiny coal town deep in the hills of Harlan County.
It was a cold, snowy afternoon on November 28, 1959, when Lynch East Main, led by Johnny Powell’s 225 rushing yards and Adam “Bull” Hoiska’s three touchdowns, throttled Henderson Douglass 40-0 at UK’s Stoll Field to win the Class A state title.
It was the first year the Kentucky High School Athletic Association sponsored playoffs in football.
It was also the start of a dynasty for Coach Ed Miracle’s Bulldogs, who reached the Class A finals five years in a row, and eight times in 13 years. They won four championships and were kings of the mountains . . . and the state.
“We were somebody,” said Mike O’Bradovich, who was an offensive lineman and nose guard on Lynch East Main’s 1963 title team.
O’Bradovich still lives in Lynch and, thanks in large part to him and his wife Mary Jo, the town’s football glory years will not be forgotten. They have converted the back part of the railroad depot into a museum – they call it The Bulldog Room – and while it contains a wide variety of Lynch East Main artifacts, everything from a blackboard and a backboard to cheerleader and band uniforms, the football memorabilia dominates.
As well it should, because Lynch East Main was a football powerhouse for four decades. The Bulldogs’ brightest stars included Joe Hollingsworth (Mary Jo’s father) in the ’40s; Don Allen, Bradley Mills, Tom Sheback and Jim Stanley in the ’50s; Hoiska, Renus McGeorge, Lowell Flanary, Joe Washington and Sanford Baskin in the ’60s; and James Price in the ’70s.
The Bulldog Room has more than 50 football trophies documenting bowl game and post-season victories. Dozens of letter jackets and jerseys hang above. Black-and-white team photos show shoulder-padded boys who have since grown into Medicare-eligible men.
But to this day they still honor what it meant to be a Bulldog.
“I loved the game, and loved playing for Lynch,” said Lowell Flanary, who played on the Bulldogs’ first five state finalists and helped win three titles. “We took a lot of pride in football, period.”
Ed Miracle was the coach who pushed them to be the best.
“We were good but he made us champs,” O’Bradovich said.
“He was a disciplinarian, and he knew football. He didn’t show favoritism to anybody. If you were the best man for that position, you played that position.”
Flanary doesn’t know what Miracle’s secret formula was. “I couldn’t tell you. He just said do it, and we did it,”
Roger Wilhoite, who played on the 1968 title team, said Miracle was “all business. He knew his talent and could get the most out of his teams.”
The Bulldogs got a boost when Lynch West Main, the town’s all-black school, was integrated into Lynch East Main. The addition of the former Pirates bolstered the Bulldogs’ program and helped them win their titles in ’63 and ’68.
Lynch East Main closed in 1981. Harlan County, which once had 12 high schools, now has only two (Harlan County and Harlan Independent).
Lynch, which once had 10,000 people in the heyday of the coal business, now has a population of 700.
The town may not be what it once was — the largest coal camp in the world — but it pays tribute to its past. O’Bradovich also gives tours into the Portal 31 mine and he can detail Lynch’s coal history from the 1930s.
But O’Bradovich is more proud of The Bulldog Room and the way it pays homage to Lynch East Main’s football history.
When a visitor asked what Lynch East Main’s nickname was, O’Bradovich was quick to answer:
“We were the Bulldogs — and still are,” he said with a smile.
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