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Walking down memory lane: Annual basketball tournament honors long-time coach, teacher Penner

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By Elliott Pratt

CRESTWOOD – Two portraits hung outside the gym entrance at South Oldham last week that brought back memories for Randy Penner.

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One was from 1989, the other from 10 years before, but both gave Penner a laugh and a sense of reflection.

“I was a little thinner and we had plaid pants and that plaid shirt,” Penner said with a laugh. “I can’t fit in them bell bottoms.”

They were photos of just two teams Penner has coached in the 40 years he’s been involved in the Oldham County school system. He was honored for his service last week for the Randy Penner Classic, a tournament hosted by the South Oldham boys’ basketball team.

The Dragons defeated Holy Cross (Louisville), DeSales and Meade County in the tournament final to win the annual tournament that honors an individual who has significantly impacted South Oldham athletics.

Penner was the first boys coach when the school opened in 1989 and presented the championship trophy to the Dragons last Wednesday night on their home floor.

“Coach (Steve) Simpson asked if I’d do it and I was very honored,” Penner said. “It was a big honor to see my team here. It’s a big homecoming. I hadn’t seen some of them in probably 25 years.”

Even if it was a homecoming, Penner himself has never left.

He began his teaching and coaching career at Oldham County High School in 1977 as a freshman and varsity assistant under Dave Hart Jr., who went on to serve as athletic director at Florida State University and is now the AD at the University of Tennessee.

Penner stayed at OCHS for 12 years and taught a wood shop class. When South Oldham opened in 1989, they needed a teacher and a coach.

Penner’s first South Oldham team went 22-10 and lost to Shelby County in the regional final. In that tournament, the Dragons defeated Scott County by 30 points, which was considered a major upset at the time since Scott County was the regional favorite that season.

Several of Penner’s former players like Jim Jorgensen, Hal White, Mark Votaw and others were in attendance last week to honor their former coach.

“I told the boys up there, ‘if you’d had a good coach, we’d been at the state tournament,’” Penner said. “We were up by six with two minutes left, but I didn’t call off the press. They shot four 3-pointers and hit all four of them and won by six.

“It has been good for me. There have been a lot of memories.”

Penner stepped down after three years and contemplated retirement, but has served in five different roles since.

He coached the South Oldham Middle School girls basketball team for three years, the high school softball team for two years, was the girls’ basketball varsity assistant for four years, boys’ varsity assistant for two years and served 12 years as assistant athletic director.

South Oldham principal Jeff Griffin, who took over as the Dragons’ coach following Penner in 1993, has known Penner since his high school days at OCHS.

“He was an assistant when I was a freshman and sophomore at Oldham County in 1982-83,” Griffin said. “He was really a mentor for me and has been for all these years. He’s always been someone I talked to and looked to when I had gone from coach to teacher to principal. He’s done a great job and continues to do that with our kids.”

Penner continues to teach wood shop for three hours each day at South Oldham. Many of the shelves in the school came from his wood working class, along with the picture frame holding the team photo of the 1998-99 Lady Dragon basketball team that won the school’s only girls regional championship, which Penner was an assistant under coach Kim Messer.

“I know it makes him feel good and it makes us feel good as a program that we can do something to honor a guy that has given 40 years of his life to kids in Oldham County in a lot of different ways,” Simpson said.

Simpson, now in his 16th year of coaching the Dragons, understood the potential dilemmas when Penner, the former head coach, expressed interest in joining the staff as an assistant. It didn’t take long for Simpson to feel “at ease” with Penner’s love for the program.

“The thing I enjoyed about working with Randy is he always puts the kids’ interest first,” Simpson said. “We all say we do that and we’d like to say we do that all the time, but Mr. Penner did do that all the time. All the sports he did here and since I’ve watched from a distance when he worked with us, he always was about the kids and win or lose, it was about the kids. I always appreciated that.”

Email us about this story at sports@oldhamera.com