Pikeville proud: Hillard Howard

March 15, 2017 FieldsColumn

 

Hillard Howard was in Rupp Arena on Wednesday to watch Pikeville in the Sweet 16. (Photo by Mike Fields)

BY MIKE FIELDS

Hillard Howard has been living in Florida the past seven years, but he’s back visiting his old Kentucky home this week for two good reasons.

  1. Howard’s beloved Pikeville Panthers made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time in almost 20 years. Jason Booher, Howard’s son-in-law, is athletic director, vice-principal AND assistant basketball coach at Pikeville. Panthers’ first-year head coach Elisha Justice played for Booher at Shelby Valley when it won the 2010 state championship.
  1. Howard will be inducted into the Dawhares/KHSAA Hall of Fame on Saturday. He guided Pikeville to three consecutive state football titles (1987-89) and two runner-up finishes (1972, ’79). He also coached Pikeville’s girls to two state basketball tournaments (1979, ’80).

Even though Pikeville lost to Perry County Central in their Sweet Sixteen opener Wednesday afternoon, Howard was proud of what the Panthers accomplished this season.

“It’s amazing, really, for Elisha to come in and get this team to the state tournament in his first year,” Howard said. “I thought that was just fantastic.

“If I had a kid playing this game, I’d want him to play for a guy like Elisha. He’s a super classy fella.”

Howard is best known for building Pikeville into a football powerhouse. He coached the Panthers for 20 years and had an overall record of 208-48 (81%). They were the first school to win three consecutive state championships.

“I think back on those years and always remember them as really something,” Howard said.

Howard came out of retirement to start the football program at Letcher Central, which came about from a consolidation of Fleming Neon, Letcher and Whitesburg (Howard’s alma mater). He stayed there 5 years and his teams totaled 30 victories in his last three seasons.

Even though he was successful as a girls’ basketball coach, Howard said he’s first and foremost “a football guy.”

And even though he lives in the Sunshine State, he’s said he’s “a mountain boy at heart.  

“My daddy was a coal miner for 42 years,” he said. “I’m a full-blooded hillbilly. I’m in Florida now, but you can’t take the hillbilly out of me.”