Commonwealth Journal

June 12, 2013

Bo knows Upsets!

Texas man’s journey into KHSAA Hall of Fame included a detour through Somerset

By DON WHITE, CJ Correspondent
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — It’s ok if you don’t remember the first mega-star in the history of Kentucky college athletics.

Afterall, it’s been nearly 100 years since Alvin “Bo” McMillin laced up his high tops for the Somerset Briar Jumpers, before going on to a legendary career at Centre College.

Despite being a great player for Centre 1917-21, the Texas native may have been a mere footnote in football history had it not been for his feat of Oct. 29, 1921.

He scored the only touchdown for the tiny Danville school in a 6-0 victory over Harvard.

Some still call it the most significant touchdown ever recorded by a Kentucky college football player.

For at least the next two or three decades, he was the toast of the town, traveling world wide, and often returning to Somerset to give speeches.

Despite being a three-time Walter Camp All-American, he never joined a long list of fellow legends in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

That will be corrected tonight (Thursday) when the quarterback who led Centre to a record of 38-4, including wins over the likes of Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky, is made an official member.

Dick Gabriel, Lexington sports broadcaster and chairman of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame nominating committee, is on record with a statement about the oversight.

“Everyone sort of assumed (McMillin) had been in much earlier. When it was called to our attention (that he wasn’t), we sort of checked our rolls and realized, no, he was not in. We’ve sought to rectify that.”

One of the proudest people in the audience at tonight’s induction is likely to be McMillin’s oldest child, Fleurette Benckart of Bloomington, Indiana.

She recalls visiting with him in Kentucky towns where he could not walk down the street without being recognized.

In November of 1968, a Sports Illustrated article gave an account of how McMillin came to be in Somerset.

He is described as a Texas orphan who grew up with a pool cue in his hand, loved football and gambling above all else, and cared little about being a student.

His high school coach at Fort Worth was Centre grad Robert L. (Chief) Myers. The first time he saw Bo run he was being chased by the cops.

In the summer of 1916, Myers wrote Dick Williams, a former classmate who was working in a Somerset drug store: “I’ve got a boy under my wing down here in Texas who’s a football-playing fool and I want him to go to Centre. I’d like for you to get him in a high school up there, and away from his pool-playing pals in Texas.”

Myers went on to say he wanted Bo close enough to Danville “to absorb some of that old Centre College spirit.”

It just so happened that Williams belonged to a newly-formed group called the Stovepipe Committee, so named because its members sat around a potbellied stove in a doctor’s office figuring ways to improve the Briar Jumper football team. It didn’t take long to make arrangements for McMillin to enroll at Somerset High.

He wasn’t happy here.

To help him get over being homesick, the committee arranged for two of his pals, James (Red) Weaver and Thad McDonald, to join him here.

They would team up with such homegrown talent as James (Red) Roberts and John Sherman Cooper, a future Pulaski County judge and U. S. Senator, and win nearly every game by wide margins.

Somerset’s newspapers of that era gave weekly accounts of Centre’s conquests of the next four years, and the contributions of the former Briar Jumpers.

McMillin would go on to coach on the college level, having success at all stops, such as Kansas State and Indiana.

He remains the most recent IU coach to compile an overall winning record (63-48-11) at that school.

The man who put Centre College football on the map after a detour through Somerset, died in 1952.