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Remembering Cool Hand Luke

By Steven Ray Bowen
Steven Ray Bowen is a former Granger who lives in Red Oak, Texas.

It was in 2002 that an old high school hero of mine — Mr. Luke Kelly — died at the age of 47. I say “hero” uniquely, because it’s not often that you say that about a fella who walked those high school halls the same time you did. I wish I had called on Luke through the years, but I am glad that we did tell his story back in 1997 in our “Georgia Red Clay Won’t Wash Off” book.

Luke was always a quiet, soft-spoken young man, though confident. Besides being good, what he did that I liked the best was let his game do all his talking. We could use a bit more of that today.

Here’s our message today to Grangers from all generations: To make sure we do not forget this young man, I want to take you back a moment to the early 1970s, where I want you to meet Cool Hand Luke.

As of the spring of 1991, it had been 17 years since I had been in the LaGrange High gym.

But during our trip home that spring break to see grandma, I dropped by to see if it still looked the same.

The gym did seem a little smaller than I remembered, but other than that it hadn’t changed much at all: the floor was set several feet lower than the stands with iron rails running along the edge, and the bleachers were made of about the same hardwood as the floor. It still had that kind of storybook feel to it. I think it was “Hoosiers” before “Hoosiers” was “Hoosiers.” You understand.

A lot of good players came through that old high school playing for coach Dick Shrewsbury: There were Gray and Anderson, who formed one of the Grangers’ quickest backcourts ever in the early 1970s.

There was Kyle Clinkscales, a guard who, before his tragedy, gained notoriety by putting the ball behind his back and dribbling through his legs before he’d shoot a free throw (all to Coach Shrewsbury’s dismay).

There were other good players, too: Cofield, Boatwright, the McHaffeys, Pickett, and, of course, Kelly.

Ah, yes, Cool Hand Luke.

As far as I was concerned, none was any smoother. I had never seen anybody in Granger blue who could shoot going to his left the way Cool Hand could, even way back when he was in the seventh grade.  He’d glide down the baseline going left, and – all of a sudden – he’d be in the air floating above everybody else, as composed as a high-wire artist; and when the ball came down, it was always nothing but net.

That’s how I remember Cool Hand Luke.

It was Cool Hand who bailed out the Grangers in a big game against Newton County in 1973.

With the score tied and time running out, Coach Shrewsbury called time out and carefully designed the game-winning play: Give it to Luke.

Luke got the ball on the left wing with six seconds to go, and before you knew it, he was pulling up on the left baseline, soaring in mid-flight, and the shot was in the air. That shot floated about as softly as I’ve ever seen, but it landed more softly.

Cool Hand had done it again.

That moment and a hundred others passed through my mind as I stood looking over that gymnasium. It had been a long time since I walked across that old gym floor. Before leaving, I couldn’t help but stop at that big “L” at center court and soak it all in for a moment. Finally, I shook my head nostalgically and started for the stairs.

But then, a loose ball rolled to my feet near the left corner of the court. A tall kid in Granger blue shorts said, “Show me whatcha got.”

I picked the ball up and dribbled left, skied the way Cool Hand used to do, then let it fly.

As I headed out the door, I could hear the gym thumping from the roar of the crowd, and the feet stomping, and I could smell the fresh popcorn. I didn’t even have to turn and look to know the result.

Nothing …but … net.

Cool Hand Luke had done it again.

Steven Ray Bowen is a former Granger who lives in Red Oak, Texas.