No. 10 (Male) - Billy Whitney

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By Brian Blair

Sometimes statistics do not matter.  

The late 1950s and early 1960s was a time when things were changing in America. Technology was improving, people were moving from the country to the city, and a young man named John F. Kennedy was making a name for himself in politics.

Something else was changing as well. African-Americans were moving from the back of the bus to the baseball diamond and the basketball court. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947 and Red Aurebach drafted the first African-American in the NBA in 1950. 

The same thing was happening in Owen County. In 1959, Owen County High School was integrated. That year six African-American students entered the school as freshmen.

One of them was Billy Whitney.

While at the school, Whitney would become the first African-American to play sports for the Rebels. 

The achievement should not be overlooked these many years later considering the fact the mascot at the time was and still is a Rebel. Also during his years and beyond, the Confederate flag was a predominant part of Owen County athletics. 

Whitney became an integral part of the both the basketball and the baseball team during his four years at OCHS.

What Whitney did opened the door for others to have the chance to make a name for themselves in Owen County’s athletic competition.

To put the change into historical perspective, the University of Kentucky did not have its first African-American basketball player until 1970 when Tom Payne donned the blue and white for Coach Adolph Rupp and the Wildcats.