Oct. 7, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Ralph Kercheval, the first All-Southeastern Conference football player at the University of Kentucky, has passed away in Lexington at the age of 98.
A native of Lexington, Kercheval graduated from Henry Clay High School. While also participating in basketball and track at UK, football was his best sport. He was a football letterman from 1931-33 and was the first Wildcat to earn first-team All-SEC honors during the inaugural season of the league in 1933.
Kercheval played quarterback, defensive back and kicker for the Wildcats and is best known for his exploits as a punter. He still holds SEC records for most punts in a season (101), most punting yards in a season (4,413) and his 52.0-yard punting average against Cincinnati in 1933 is still the single-game league record (min. 10 punts). During his UK career, he punted 234 times for 9,749 yards, an average of 44.8 yards per punt.
Following his time at UK, Kercheval played seven years (1934-40) in the National Football League for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a running back and punter. At the time of his death, he was known as the oldest living player in the NFL.
Kercheval served in the United States Army during World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following his military career, he enjoyed a long, successful career in the Thoroughbred horse industry as a breeder, trainer and farm manager. He is enshrined in the Henry Clay High School Hall of Fame, the state of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the UK Athletics Hall of Fame.
Additional details on the life of Ralph Kercheval are in the obituary below.
Obituary for Ralph G. Kercheval
Ralph Godfrey Kercheval, 98, husband of Blanche Griffin Kercheval, died in Lexington on October 6, 2010 after a long illness. He was known to be the oldest living player in the NFL. Born on December 1, 1911 in Salt Lick, Kentucky; he was the son of the late Ernest LaRue and Elizabeth Shouse Kercheval. He was preceded in death by his brothers, Carl and Forrest, and his sister, Ernestine (Murray).
Ralph, who was educated in Lexington, began to exhibit his athletic prowess while in grade school, winning five out of seven track and field events at the 1924 Rotary Club Field Day. After being an outstanding student at Henry Clay High School, he was graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Animal Husbandry. While at UK, he excelled at football, basketball and track; and was a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. He was All-SEC in football, holding many kicking records for decades. He then played seven years in the NFL for the old Brooklyn Dodgers. During the off season he was able to work with mares and foals at C.V. Whitney's farm in Lexington, nurturing his remarkable career with horses. His longest punt was 91 yards in the air against the Chicago Bears, not including roll as they do nowadays.
After football, he entered the U.S. Army as required by his ROTC commission and was assigned to the Remount Depot at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where he and his young family were assigned for the duration of the war. World War II then broke out, and Ralph and his young family stayed for the duration of the war. At war's end he attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was commanding officer of Fort Robinson.
Ralph was able to continue his outstanding career in the Thoroughbred industry, training horses for Maine Chance Farm and others before becoming general manager of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland. At Sagamore, he bred several outstanding horses, including the great Native Dancer. In 1958, he was able to move back to Lexington, being a managing partner and training horses for Idle Hour Farm. He then trained horses and became bloodstock manager for famed New York investment banker Robert Lehman.
In 1969, he leased Gallaher Farm where he, Blanche and son Hal bred, sold and raced their own horses. He later turned the operation of Gallaher over to Hal when he assumed the duties and vice presidency of Mereworth Farm. Ralph bred and raced the exceptional turf mare Fleet Victress under his colors of turquoise and scarlet. In 1981, he became one of the original directors of Kirk Horse Insurance. He spent his remaining years enjoying time with his family here and in Delray Beach, Florida, and getting in a good game of golf as well.
Besides his beloved wife of 74 years, he is survived by his three sons: Ralph Jr. (Joanne), Hal, and Ronald (Monica); his niece Norma Murray Ayers, and several great nieces and great nephews. He also leaves behind his beloved and cherished caregiver and friend, Tara Daugherty.
Mr. Kercheval was a member of Central Christian Church, Lexington. He was also a member of Idle Hour Country Club, Keeneland Club, and the Thoroughbred Club of America where he was past president; and director emeritus of Kirk Horse Insurance. He is enshrined in the Henry Clay High School Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, and the UK Athletics Hall of Fame.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to: Hospice of the Bluegrass, 2312 Alexandria Dr., Lexington, KY 40504; or Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (designated for Alzheimer's research only, please), 101 Sanders Brown Building, 800 S. Limestone St., Lexington, KY 40536. Milward-Broadway, 159 North Broadway, Lexington, Ky. 40507, is in charge of arrangements. www.milwardfuneral.com