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A Twilight's Last Gleaming
Frank Deford
November 19, 1984
The story of Eddie Bishop, small-town football hero, was an American classic—until he came home to Pineville, Kentucky as the high school coach
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November 19, 1984

A Twilight's Last Gleaming

The story of Eddie Bishop, small-town football hero, was an American classic—until he came home to Pineville, Kentucky as the high school coach

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There were no more pregnancies after Jan was born. Life was very difficult. Years before, Fred had come up from Alabama, a railroad man with a grade school education, and now the L & N had laid him off for the last time, with seven children to support. Inez is as garrulous and irrepressible as Fred is quiet and reserved. She's a Dyer, has always lived in Pineville. Her father, a colossus of a man, reputed to have gone 450 pounds, had been killed in a mine accident when she was an infant, and she'd grown up a resourceful woman.

But when Fred was laid off for the final time, he and Inez faced a more desperate kind of nothing. They were bereft of all save "the milk in my breasts," Inez says. But the Bishops would not even consider going on welfare. Instead, they had bus tickets mailed to them and shipped out to Kingsport, Tenn., 70 miles away, where they served as live-in domestics for three years. Inez's mother, Alice Dyer, tended the brood in Pineville. It would break Fred's and Inez's hearts when they returned home for a weekend every now and then, and their babies wouldn't even recognize them.

The family center held. Lee, the eldest, set the pattern for the others, and Fred and Inez were able to put aside a few dollars. Finally, Fred got a job back in Pineville as a maintenance worker with what everybody calls "The K.U."—the slate electric utility, the largest employer in Pineville. He still works there; Inez runs a day-care center in their house.

It's their house, too. The banks would go an extra mile for the Bishops; people would cosign for Fred and Inez. Still, it was always a struggle, and Inez remembers one spring night when there was absolutely no money or food in the house when they went to sleep. Inez prayed to Jesus for help.

It snowed that night, and when the Bishops awoke, Pineville lay still under a freak wet spring storm. Fred and the boys were able to shovel driveways. There was breakfast, after all. "The Lord had answered us," Inez says.

And then, one by one, the Bishop children graduated from Pineville High and began to follow Lee to college. Eventually, they all got bachelor's degrees. Some went beyond that. Lee is a teacher and coach; Marie is a policewoman in Memphis; Elaine is a hospital social worker in Lexington; Fred runs an urban-renewal agency in Frankfort; Jennifer, an attorney, works for Legal Aid in Cincinnati; and Jan is a social worker. Even if Lee and Fred Jr. and Eddie had never picked up a ball, the Bishops would have been an admired family.

The fact that the Bishop children have left Pineville isn't surprising, though. There are very few opportunities for educated blacks in the area. Possibly because there aren't many blacks around, the whites don't seem to feel threatened, and race relations appear remarkably placid in Pineville. Indeed, Eddie's predecessor, Teddy Taylor, was a black man, and as The Sun-Courier wrote glowingly when Taylor left: "For many years to come residents of Pineville will be talking of the man with the bald head and that great team he had in 1978."

Of course, it didn't damage race relations that Taylor went 9-3 and took his team to the district finals. For years, the few black families in Pineville lived by themselves in the most vulnerable part of town, along Cumberland Avenue, where floodwaters periodically swept up from the river below.

Normally the Cumberland is an agreeable stream. However, when the rains come and the mountain creeks fill and rush into the Cumberland, it can become a wrathful weapon in God's hand, even though there's a floodwall along the bank in Pineville. At its worst, as back in April of '77, the river crests above its banks, above the floodwall, and inundates the little town, the water 18 or 20 feet deep around the courthouse where on warm, dry mornings old men whittle and nod at small lies.

The Noah-like flood of '77 even undermined the foundation of the old elementary school, which led to talk that the town would be well advised to give up the ghost and consolidate its few students into the Bell County system. But if Pineville was to lose its schools, then Pineville would lose its football team, too. So the townspeople approved a bond issue and had their taxes raised to build a new elementary school.

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