Parsons never expected to be in UK Hall of Fame

Published 9:39 am Friday, January 26, 2024

By Larry Vaught

Contributing Columnist

Dick Parsons was an All-America shortstop at the University of Kentucky and three-year letterman in basketball under coach Adolph Rupp who later became UK’s head baseball coach for two years and assistant basketball coach under Joe Hall for 11 seasons, including the 1978 national championship season.

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The 1957 Harlan High School graduate hit .400 his senior year to become an All-American and was a two-time all-Southeastern Conference pick. In basketball he scored 511 points in three seasons when UK went 61-19.

In basketball, Parsons scored 511 points in three varsity seasons at UK and helped the Cats to a 61-19 record and two appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Parson was a team captain in both sports at UK but admits he was a bit surprised when he got the news he was being inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame last fall.

“(UK athletics director) Mitch Barnhart called me. I was at a stop sign in Harrodsburg and was really pleased I was stopped because it took me by total surprise,” Parsons said. “I just never thought about anything like that happening.

“I had a good baseball career and was part of some good teams for coach Rupp. I really enjoyed coaching at Kentucky, too.”

Being a two-sport athlete when he played at UK was not unusual. He remembers Fran Tarkenton, who went on to a successful NFL career, was a second baseman at Georgia when he was also the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs.

“A lot of us played two sports. It was always a week after basketball ended and we would take off for a spring baseball trip,” Parsons said. “I loved baseball. Back in high school I talked to some (professional) baseball scouts. I was not drafted but I was going to sign with the Dodgers after (high) school was out. Then a week before school was out, the scout left the team.”

He got to Kentucky in 1957 and believes it was his baseball career that got him into the UK Hall of Fame even though he was a productive basketball player. He credits former UK baseball coach Keith Madison for helping secure his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“Coach Rupp wanted me to stay on when I graduated. I made a mistake. I should have stayed even though I got involved in scouting for him until I came back in 1968 as the baseball coach,” Parsons said. “I would get my scouting reports to coach Rupp and (assistant) coach (Harry) Lancaster. I never lost contact with them.”

Parsons became a high school teacher at Glasgow the same year former UK football player Jim Poynter went there to coach. A few years later Poynter left for Lafayette High School and Parsons went to Boyle County as head basketball coach.

“I was teaching college prep biology classes and coaching when I got the chance to go back to Kentucky as the baseball coach,” Parsons said.

Parsons remains grateful with what Rupp did for him. He calls that an “interesting and memorable” part of my life.

“He was very good to me. I did pretty much what he wanted but I loved his approach to the game. He was an imposing figure but I loved him,” Parsons said.

Parsons was a freshman on the 1957-58 Kentucky team known as the “Fiddlin’ Five” that won Rupp’s fourth national championship.

“One day we scrimmaged the varsity (freshmen were not eligible then) and we beat them,” Parsons said. “That was the first time I heard him (Rupp) say, ‘You guys were just fiddlin’ around.’ That stuck with that team and coach Rupp continued to call them that and I was so proud that they won the national championship.

“Those guys are some of the best friends I have ever had. But from 3 to 5:30 every day, they were not my friends. It was kind of the last man standing every day in practice but it was such a grand experience.”

He felt the same about the 1977-78 season when UK was considered the team to beat all season after losing in the East Region final in 1977. Parsons said Purdue transfer Kyle Macy was the “difference maker” that helped UK get the national title for Hall.

Parsons still remembers playing Arkansas in the national semifinals. He got a game film from Memphis where Arkansas made its first 14 shots while scoring 95 points.

“I told coach Hall I did not want to show that film to our players,” Parsons said. “We were going to win but I did not want to change the players’ frame of mind. Arkansas was pretty good but we won and then beat Duke in the title game. To win a title, you have got to be good and you have got to be lucky.”

Parsons moved to Harrodsburg about 10 years ago to be closer to his grandchildren. He appreciates the “historical value” of the area much like he cherishes UK basketball history.

“I don’t go to (basketball) practices like I did. I get there a little and coach Cal never minded when I was there,” he said. “But now it is just easier to let the grandkids go to the games but I do enjoy watching this team play.”