Tornado Warning

Do any of you have any idea who Lloyd Tilghman was? Lloyd Tilghman commanded a brigade in the Vicksburg campaign and was killed by a shell at the Battle of Champion Hill where he was praised for his gallantry. Prior to his recognition for gallantry, he was the same Lloyd Tilghman, unfortunately, who was reported to be too slow in noticing a vulnerable spot at Fort Henry on the Tennessee River which resulted in his surrender of the fort to General U.S. Grant in February of 1862. For this surrender, he was somewhat disgraced. The football team from the High School named in honor of his widow and him may have been defeated a few times over the years; but, certainly, never disgraced, and it has never once surrendered.

Kurt Barber, Mr. Football at Paducah Tilghman, 1987

This team I am referencing is of course, the Paducah Tilghman High School Blue Tornado. Paducah Tilghman used to be called the Augusta Tilghman High School and was named for the widow of the Brigadier General who fought and died with gallantry at the Battle of Champion Hill thus restoring his good name after his surrender to Grant at Fort Henry. The Augusta Tilghman High School replaced the Paducah High School in 1921 and then in 1956 the school became known as Paducah Tilghman High School.

Paducah Tilghman High School won State Titles in 1973, 1985, and 2009. The Blue Tornado have been runner-up in 1976, 1980, 1987, 1988, 1989. Paducah Tilghman has 8 undefeated seasons (1907, 23, 32, 33, 38, 47, 50, 73) and two Kentucky Mr. Football Award Winners (Kurt Barber, 1987 and Billy Jack Haskins, 1995). No less austere of an icon than the late Fleming Thornton, former HC and then AD at Hopkinsville High School, told me, when Billy Jack Haskins was quarterbacking the Blue Tornado, that, in Thornton’s opinion, Billy Jack Haskins was the best High School Quarterback he had ever seen play. The Blue Tornado has an overall program record of 771-324-25 making it the 4th winningest program in Commonwealth history. That may well explain why the Blue Tornado play in a stadium with a capacity of 8,500 fans (McRight Field).

Billy Jack Haskins, won Mr. Football in 1995 before playing QB for UK

Paducah Tilghman’s oldest rival is Mayfield. The Cardinals and the Blue Tornado have met since 1911 and agree on very few things including who won the initial contest. Paducah also had a natural rivalry with Hopkinsville High School which dated back to when they were district opponents and both in 3A. At that time, Kentucky didn’t have but 4 classifications and a team had to win its district to advance to the playoffs. The District Champion moved on and the runner-up went home. HHS and Paducah Tilghman would generally meet annually with each team being undefeated, up until their meeting. One might well imagine the animosity which is engendered in an annual loser goes home match. HHS and the Blue Tornado will renew that rivalry in the Fall of 2017 at the Stadium of Champions in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Kentucky Prep Gridiron has September 15, 2017 circled on its calendar and suggests the same for you.

No accounting of top KHSAA football programs is complete without a story about a program which has not only consistently won but which spent quite a time being the perennial program in Western Kentucky alongside Hopkinsville High School and Mayfield. There is a mighty wind beginning to swell on the banks where the Tennessee and the Ohio Rivers conjoin. Teams with Paducah Tilghman on its schedule better hope the winds don’t conflate into something completely terrifying, like a Tornado.






About Fletcher Long 1511 Articles
Two-time winner of Kentucky Press Association awards for excellence in writing and reporting news stories while Managing Editor of the Jackson (KY) Times-Voice

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