The History of an Owensboro Icon
Photo by AP Imagery
On an unseasonably cool and pleasant May evening, the nearly 300 members of the 2023 graduating class of Owensboro High School sat in neat rows, prepared to join the ranks of alumni of their beloved high school. Appropriately, the commencement ceremony took place on the turf of the playing field where some had played and nearly all had cheered for the Red Devil football team over the last four years. Situated on the southeast corner of Senior High’s sprawling campus, Rash Stadium has played host to many thrilling contests, but its impact does not stop at sporting events. The stadium has held dances, field days, powderpuff games and countless other events throughout the years. Despite the untold hours these students spent here, few, if any, knew the history of the venue they know simply and affectionately as “Rash.”
In an era of school consolidation and “newer-is-always-better” sensibilities regarding school construction, Rash Stadium stands alone as the vestige of a bygone era. Since the first game played at the stadium in the fall of 1923, much has changed. Rash was already 10 years old when President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his second of four inaugural addresses, telling Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. The Great Depression, a World War, the Civil Rights Era and the fight for desegregation, the Cold War, seventeen presidents and countless other historical events have come and gone while Rash Stadium has stood at 1800 Frederica. Rash has undergone additions, facelifts, and upgrades over the years, yet it retains its historic feel and charm. How did it come to be, where does the name Rash come from, and what other secrets does the treasured venue hold?
The Owensboro Senior High Red Devil football program is one of the oldest and proudest in the country. Boasting nearly 800 wins, the Tradition of Excellence that is OHS football dates back to the late 19th century. The first recorded game played by the Devils, a scoreless tie with rival Henderson City, took place in 1895. In those fledgling years, the now proud program played short seasons, struggling to find footing and success. However, by the end of the first World War, the Devils had become the preeminent gridiron squad in Western Kentucky. Despite their success, the team had no true field, let alone a grandstand or stadium, to call its own. The OHS football squads of the early 1900s alternated playing “home” contests in fields near Legion Park and the former fairgrounds of Southside Park. Large crowds of spectators would gather for the games, but more often than not there was no seating, and viewing the contests was difficult.
By the early 1920s, community momentum to construct a stadium on the grounds of what was to be the new Owensboro High School at 1800 Frederica Street had grown. The movement, spearheaded by local physician Dr. O.W. Rash, took the form of an early 20th century version of crowd-sourced funding. Dr. Rash solicited individual donations through newspaper advertisements and by calling on friends and contemporaries. The goal was to collect 100 pledges of $100 each, totaling the $10,000 that contractors had estimated the job would require. Once Dr. Rash had secured the funding, the Owensboro Public Schools Board of Education determined that the stadium should be built at the school’s new athletic field immediately southwest of the school. Construction began at once, and the first OHS football game played at the new athletic field with seating on the west side occurred on October 20, 1923. That game concluded in a draw against the now-defunct Sturgis High School.
Many within the community felt that the stadium should be named in honor of the man who had spearheaded its funding. An unsigned letter to the editor of The Owensboro Messenger dated July 20, 1923, bears witness to community sentiments regarding Dr. Rash’s contributions. “Modesty will forbid his admitting it, but to Dr. O.W. Rash belongs the credit…for the erection of a modern athletic stadium on the new high school’s athletic field,” wrote the anonymous citizen. “The stadium was Dr. Rash’s suggestion.” The letter continues, “There is no telling how much of the balance he secured himself, while others who had volunteered or been designated to aid, loafed.” The author concludes that the stadium should bear the name of its most important benefactor, in no uncertain terms: “Rash Stadium. No other name will satisfy merit or the public.”
Though Dr. Rash declined an official dedication ceremony, the community began almost immediately referring to the stadium as “Rash.” By the time the first night game was played at the stadium on September 15, 1933, the name had stuck. Despite all he had done to secure construction of the west side of the stadium, Dr. Rash was not finished. By the late 1930s, the crowds that would gather to support the Devils had grown to the point that Dr. Rash and many in the community felt an addition was necessary. Dr. Rash once again set out to raise money through community donations for an expansion. In 1940, bolstered by the seed money raised and donated, the OPS Board of Education entered into a contract with The Works Progress Administration (WPA) to begin construction. The WPA, an arm of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” recovery plan, would provide the labor and 75 percent of the estimated $30,000 the project would require. The plans included construction of the east side of the stadium, a concrete wall around the perimeter of the field and stadium, and a press box atop the new grandstand. The first game played after the conclusion of the project occurred on September 12, 1941, a game the Devils won 26-0 over Dawson Springs.
Over 60 years would pass before Rash would undergo major renovations again. Following the 2005 season, synthetic turf was laid on the playing surface. In 2013, a metal grandstand was constructed just north of the field and designated specifically for students and the band.
Rash has been home to the Red Devils since its inception 100 years ago. It also served as the home field of the Owensboro Catholic Aces and the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers before the opening of Steele Stadium on the campus of KWC. Hundreds of football games have been played at Rash, and for many alumni of Senior High, the old stadium is a home away from home.
Larry Moore, a 1965 graduate, played for several highly successful Red Devil squads on the gridiron at Rash during his time at OHS. Coach Moore played for Coach Ralph Genito. After a successful college football career and the completion of his undergraduate studies, he returned to OHS to begin his teaching career and serve as an assistant coach for Coach Gerald Poynter, who had taken the reins of the program when Coach Genito departed to coach at The University of Alabama for legendary head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Coach Moore was an assistant coach for 13 seasons before becoming head coach in the fall of 1983, a position he held through the 1987 season. Coach Moore is the last head coach to guide the Red Devils to a state title, hoisting the Class 3A championship trophy following a conquest of Belfry in the finals in 1986. “I bleed Red and Black,” Coach Moore said recently when asked of his love for Senior High and Rash Stadium. “I am a product of Owensboro Public Schools, after college I came straight back, I worked at OHS for 29 years. I am a lifelong fan and supporter of OHS and I love OHS football.” When asked about the many games he’s seen at Rash, Coach Moore said “It is the very best place to watch a football game anywhere. Because there is no track, the stadium sits incredibly close to the action. You can see everything so well, and you can also hear everything. The players communicating with each other, the pop of the pads, the coaches coaching, there’s no other place like it. All the years I coached and played, all the opposing coaches said they’d never seen any other place like it.”
David Johnson graduated from Senior High in 1984 after helping lead the Devils to the state at-large championship in the fall of ‘83. After college, David returned to OHS where he began his career as a social studies teacher and assistant football coach. After several years as a teacher and coach, Johnson moved into administration, working his way through the ranks all the way to Assistant Superintendent, a position he held for several years before retiring. Johnson is still an avid supporter of the Red Devil football program. When asked about Rash, Johnson said “I’ve been around OHS for a long time, and there have been so many renovations and changes to the building over the years, it’s almost unrecognizable compared to what it was like when I was a student. Rash is the one place on campus that still feels like home, even after all these years.” Johnson went on to talk about how Friday nights at Rash have been a constant in his life over the decades: “I started out as a fan when I was a kid, then I played, then I coached, then I was an administrator, and now I am a fan again. I’ve seen a lot of games at Rash. There truly is no better place to watch a game.”
Drew Hall grew up dreaming of his turn to don the Red and Black and take the field at Rash. “When I was a kid, we would be running around on the hill at Longfellow or the practice field and watching the games. We couldn’t wait until it was our turn to play football for OHS.” After a storied career at OHS that saw Hall finish as the second-leading rusher in program history, he went on to play college football at EKU in the fall of 1994. In 2003 Coach Hall returned to OHS to begin his coaching career and has been on the sidelines since. “Rash Stadium is like home to me,” said Hall. “I grew up watching my older family members play there, I played there, and now I coach. Friday nights at Rash Stadium are a huge part of my life.”
Much has changed since that cool October afternoon in 1923 when the Devils took the field at Rash Stadium for the very first time. The game has evolved, the equipment has improved, and the rules have changed many times over the past 100 years. When the 128th OHS football team makes its debut, the players will be the beneficiaries of these changes and improvements. However, they will also be fortunate to play in such a storied venue with an unparalleled tradition. The 100th season at Rash will commence this fall when the Purples of Bowling Green High come to renew a storied rivalry with the Red Devils for the 81st time. The players on each team will give their all, and thousands of fans will descend on Rash once again for what promises to be an outstanding high school football game. The players, the coaches, and the fans won’t be alone, though. The ghosts of seasons past and tales of Rash Stadium glory will be alive all around them. Here’s hoping for 100 more seasons at Rash. OL
Special thanks to the staff of The Kentucky Room at The Daviess County Public Library. Their research assistance was invaluable.