Most people outside of Louisville probably have never heard of David Hawpe. But there was a time, while serving as the managing editor of the influential Louisville Courier-Journal, Hawpe’s opinion mattered.
I first met David in 1963, when I transferred from Western Kentucky University to the University of Kentucky to pursue studies in journalism.
David was one of the first fellow students I met. He was already a rising star in journalism and was in the top echelon of the school’s student newspaper, “The Kentucky Kernel.” I quickly realized he was someone I wanted on my side if I achieved my goal of writing sports for “The Kernel.”
I heard about him, enough to know that he was writing for a college newspaper and it would not be the end of the line for him.
I was told that freshmen writers did not get bylines at “The Kernel,” but Hawpe did. I also heard he was on scholarship. Now that impressed me. Most of the guys I knew on scholarship were athletes. I was serving meals at a sorority house and selling clothes at a men’s store . . . nothing close to a scholarship.
Although we were friends, I can’t say I knew David well. We never drank a beer together at The Nook, or danced the night away at Danceland or Joyland. You see, I was a frat boy and journalist. David was a journalist through and through.
Hawpe was a hard charger who wore dark rim glasses and looked a bit “nerdish” with an opinion on everything and not bashful about giving it. In a way he was pompous about it.
In spite of David being an admitted liberal when it came to politics, and me being a bit on the conservative side, we were friends. In fact, David unbeknownst to him, was the reason I added my middle initial to my byline, “Gary P. West.” I noticed in college he used his, “David V. Hawpe.” I ask him about it.
“I think adding your middle initial makes a byline more noticeable,” I recall him telling me.
I took heed, and after college I began using it. It stuck. I did notice, however, that as David moved up the professional ladder, he dropped the “V.” I guess he felt he no longer needed it. I still use mine.
David was older than me. He was born on February 4 in Pikeville, while a day later on February 5, I was born in Indianapolis. David didn’t stay in the mountains long, nor I in Indiana. I know nothing about him doing anything athletically. Perhaps he did and I didn’t know about it. I do know after Male High School he headed to U.K.
Although Louisville was Hawpe’s home he never, and I mean never, lost his love for the school in Lexington, later becoming a regent.
Some felt Hawpe’s unabashed adulation for U.K., his alma mater, carried over even to the Courier’s sport page. One of those was former U of L director of athletics Bill Olsen.
“We had someone who measured the column inches in print we got in comparison to U.K.’s,” he said. “It wasn’t close. I met with Hawpe about it. He would just smile and say, ‘I’ll take a look at it’. At the time I wasn’t a big fan of his, but later I wish I had gotten to know him better.”
A lost fact I have not seen is how he gained prominence as a writer. And some of it was all because of athletics.
David Hawpe’s path crossed with that of U.K. football coach Charlie Bradshaw in 1962, after Blanton Collier was fired, even though he had a record of 41-36-3. No one knew it at the time, but it was the beginning of the end for Bradshaw. (Collier’s overall record at U.K. is the last football coach to leave the school with a winning record, and there have been ten of them since 1961. Collier went on to coach the Cleveland Browns to the NFL title in 1964 while at the same time getting paid $50,000 by U.K. His Browns record was 76-34-2.)
The new U.K. coach had played at Kentucky and been an assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama. Bradshaw was sure he could mimic his old coach and turn a lackluster football team into one of national caliber.
It wasn’t long before the 88 player roster had shrunk to 32. Hawpe was all over it, and it wasn’t like he didn’t know what was going on behind the curtains that surrounded the football practice fields.
Even though at Male High School, Hawpe was not an athlete himself, he was good friends with several. It just so happened that four of them had signed grant-in-aide football scholarships at U.K. Hawpe had four moles inside of Bradshaw’s team and they kept their old friend up to speed with what was going on.
Charlie Bradshaw knew the talk, but walking the walk would have to wait. In an evangelistic way he touted his Baptist religion, and talked about all of the good mamas and papas of the boys he was recruiting. But above all, he said, “everyone has to be accountable.”
What Bradshaw was saying sounded perfect and played well to small Kentucky towns across the state.
When Male High buddies, Jim Bolus, Lindsey Able, Joe Blankenship ad Tommy Hedden became a statistic by leaving the team, they like everyone else before and after were referred to as “quitters,” “If you quit here you’ll quit in life,” Bradshaw told them.
Many of those who left the program went on to become doctors, lawyers, judges, corporate executives, coaches, and a few became great football players at other schools.
One was Dale Lindsey.
He played at Bowling Green High School along with quarterback Joe Bill Campbell. Both left U.K. and enrolled at Western Kentucky University, where they played on a championship team.
Lindsey went on to play nine years for the NFL Cleveland Browns at middle linebacker. A quitter, I don’t think so.
Lindsey’s high school coach, Jim Pickens told Bradshaw that he ran off the thoroughbreds and kept the mules.
“You can’t win with mules on Saturday,” Pickens told the U.K. coach. He went on to say not to bother recruiting any Bowling Green High players in the future.
You can call it “football down south,” if you want, but so much of Charlie Bradshaw’s coaching style was being swept under the rug until Hawpe tightened his journalism grip on the happenings, and with the help of former players took the sorry state of affairs with the Kentucky program nationally.
Practices were brutal, often lasting for hours with only salt pills — — — no water. Under Bradshaw’s watch players were seriously injured — — — never playing football again. One even died.
I attended two or three of Bradshaw practices when I started writing Kernel sports. He would stand atop of his two-story tower with megaphone at the ready. And when he had seen enough he sprinted down the stairs in what seemed like taking two steps at a time. At one point while I was at one of the practices he pushed a player so hard mentally and physically that the player slugged Bradshaw. Immediately he was mauled by several U.K. assistant coaches. I, too, had a few inside informants . . . no less than six players, plus four so-called “quitters.” When they showed up at our fraternity house, they looked like they had been in a car wreck and walked like it.
A question I’ve always had is where was University of Kentucky college administrators? How can a major college football team drop from 88 to 30 players in a year and no one in authority . . . real authority, stand up and ask “what is going on here?” Where was the U.K. president Frank Dickey? Where was the AD Bernie Shively?
It was Hawpe who didn’t just ease this sordid story out of the darkness, but lit a rocket under it. For Hawpe it was easy. He was a very good journalist, knew what was really going on, and by this time had become uncomfortable with big time college sports. He was much more than the arts, history and politics that he enjoyed covering.
A pair of writers, Shannon Ragland and Henry Rippetoe wrote extensively about the Charlie Bradshaw days at Kentucky.
Ragland, an attorney in 2007, put together a book detailing the demise of the smooth-talking U.K. coach, who after eight years managed a 25-41-4 record with some of the best talent in school history. Can you say Rodger Bird, Rick Norton, Sam Ball, Larry Seiple, Bob Windsor and Jeff VanNote?
Ragland’s “The Thin Thirty,” brought to light a football program infused with a gay sex scandal, brutality, and even an alleged fix of one of the Kentucky games.
It was common knowledge that beginning in 1959 two high profile gays in Lexington, Lonnie Winter and Jim Barnett, set their sights on University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University football players in Richmond.
Ragland, in his book, wrote that with their fine clothes, deep pockets and posh home, Lonnie and Jim cut quite a swath cruising the streets of Lexington in their Cadillac convertible in search of talent.
Blanton Collier, the fired coach before Bradshaw, was completely unaware of what was taking place involving some, but not all, of his players. It had become common knowledge that Roy ShererJr., spent time at Lonnie and Jim’s home in Lexington. It was Sherer who had changed his name to Rock Hudson when Hollywood came calling.
It was a scandal, and say what you want about Bradshaw, he shut it down and sent Lonnie and Jim packing out of Lexington.
There’s a lot to wrap your arms around in Shannon Ragland’s book, but it’s worth the read.
David Hawpe’s contribution to journalism lasted for decades. Later in his Courier-Journal days, he continued to write an occasional column. I stayed in touch and sometimes sent him a book I had written. Not expecting anything in return, I was pleasantly surprised one day when I opened my paper and saw a column he had written about one of them.
Even though David had retired, at 78-years-old, he was still a journalistic force. He will be missed.
There’s no excuse, get up, get out and get going! Gary P. West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org