(Editor's Note: This "Kentucky by Heart" column by Steve Flairty first appeared in Lexington's KyForward.com. Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”) Good things are happening with the Centre College football program these days. Some are measured in victories on the field; some are measured in simple acts of kindness.
Long ago, the pigskin team brought national attention to the small Kentucky town of Danville. In 1921, the “Praying Colonels” pulled off one of the most noted college football upsets in sports history, beating powerful Harvard 6-0. The positive spirit of that great event abides on campus and the town even today.
Recently, Centre has won their share of games, too. Led by head coach Andy Frye (pictured) since 1998, the Colonels have a record of 118-63. Two of his players have gone on to play professionally in the NFL. Not bad for a small liberal arts college known for rigorous academic standards, a school that has perennially gained national recognition for high performing students in the classroom.
But, in talking to Coach Frye, the wins on the field are simply a part of the overall equation for the performance of the Colonels footballers. The team members are players to improve the community, too. “I believe I have to be a mentor so that they see a bigger picture here,” said Frye.
Like when the team makes their annual service trip to help prepare a camp for children whose health is compromised or have special needs, called Camp Horsin’ Around. Phyllis Cronin, founder and board member of the compassionate work near Perryville, commented: “They have been absolutely wonderful. They moved rocks and they made a fire pit for kids to go out and have campfires around it. They helped clean up a lot of brush after last winter took a wack at us, particularly down by the river where the kids like to play.”
The team has also participated in activities in local Danville schools, doing such things as reading to children, playing with them during recess, dancing in music class, and simply being good role models. They have also been involved with the Sunrise Children’s Services in town.
Alex Mattingly, a senior defensive back from Louisville, talked about another outreach: “My favorite thing we did this year was hosting a group of children who are diagnosed with cancer for our game against Washington University. Since the ribbon for childhood cancer awareness is gold, we decided to unveil our brand new all gold jerseys for this game and hosted a ‘gold out,’ (or) selling gold t-shirts to students and fans before the game to raise extra money for the families.” The kids also enjoyed game-like activities of their own. They were allowed to follow the players around on that day, and they could get their wrists taped and listen to music in the locker room before the game. Coach Frye, said Mattingly, teaches that “the greatest form of a leader is a servant leader…one who goes beyond his or her own wants or needs to satisfy the needs of others around him.”
Frye is proud of the team’s proactive stance they took last winter after a heavy snowstorm. While doing the early morning speed and agility drills, team captains approached the Centre football staff with a request they help others who were vulnerable because of the weather. “Eighty kids went out into the town and shoveled snow for families they knew were older and (other) people that needed help,” said Frye.
Not prepared with adequate tools for the job didn’t stop them, noted senior wide receiver Blake Martin. “We grabbed whatever that we could. There are always people that are less fortunate than ourselves and we need to be mindful of that and provide help where we can.”
A man in Wilmore, Tommy Baker, heard about the good works of Frye’s players and asked them to be guests on his “Home Hotline” radio program he hosts on Lexington station WVLK. Baker also asked Frye if he might involve Baker’s 32-year-old son, Lindsay, with the team in some way. Frye invited Lindsay, who deals with health issues that include seizures, to help with managerial duties. He accepted and this past season worked several practices per week, as well as home games. “It was good for our team,” said Frye, “and shows the diversity of our world.”
Lindsay called Coach Frye “an awesome guy who keeps his composure a lot and makes a lot of smart plays. There is a lot of enthusiasm on the sidelines.”
Frye sees a special quality in the type of student-athlete he gets at the school. “You’ve got to understand that at Centre, these guys are all volunteers,” he said. “They’re playing football because they love to play football. They wouldn’t go to a school that is academically rigorous if that were not important to them, and none of them are thinking of football as a career. As a football coach, my responsibility is ‘don’t extinguish the joy of their play…because if you do, they’re not going to play anymore.”
The coach believes that the system he oversees, in order to work well, needs all staff onboard, and it is. “When I interview people for our staff, I let them know that is part of the commitment,” he explained.
Frye attributes part of the good citizenship he sees to many having been Boy Scouts—and even more. “I once asked the team how many had been Eagle Scouts…and there were eight hands that came up.”
One might be surprised that there are that few. For sure, Coach Andy Frye inspires his players to behave as Eagle Scouts.
Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. His new book, “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” has recently been released and is available for purchase here. Flairty is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, as well as a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on Facebook.
Photos by Centre College