Cameron Carmical has heard the stories, just like several generations before him who are too young to remember the running back who lit up scoreboards around eastern Kentucky in the late 1950s for the Evarts Wildcats.
There have been countless stars who followed, from Joe Washington, Mike Granato and Rex Estridge in the 60s to David Hensley and Bobby McIlquham in the 80s, from Scott Russell, Charles Tinsley and T.J. Dunson in the 1990s to Marcus McMillian and Jake Middleton in this decade.
They were all very good, some even put up better numbers, but there was only one Charles “Perky” Bryant, whose rare combination of grit and athleticism turned him into a legend, both on the high school and college levels.
Carmical knows him much better than most, and he was at Huff Park on Wednesday evening with his grandfather and many other family members and friends for the local Stroke Awareness Walk. Carmical came up with the idea for the walk as a way to give back to the community and honor his grandfather as part of National Stroke Awareness Month.
“I just wanted to do something for community service, and I thought of something personal for me where my Papaw had a stroke 10 years ago,” said Carmical, a basketball standout at Harlan County High School who was ranked among the top five freshmen in the 13th Region last season.
Bryant was among those on hand and was pleased with the turnout.
“It was a good crowd, and I’m real pleased with it,” Bryant said. “Cameron is a special boy.”
Bryant has made a lot of progress since suffering his stroke, beginning with rehab stints at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation in Knoxville and Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington. “It’s been tough, but I’m glad I’m still here,” Bryant said. “I’m still using a cane. I can walk pretty good, but I lose my balance. There has been a big improvement. It’s surprised me I’ve come this far.”
Bryant’s wife, Nancy, was also at the walk, along with his two daughters, LeAnne Huff (Cameron’s mom) and Stacy Noah. Bryant sat at the sign-in table with Maxine Hunter, the wife of legendary Evarts coach Charles Hunter, who died several years ago.
“I helped raise him,” said Hunter of her husband’s former star running back. “We’ll make this walk even bigger next year, but I thought it went well.”
After graduating from Evarts in 1960, Bryant moved on to the University of Kentucky where his legend grew as a member of the infamous “Thin Thirty” team, a term coined when new coach Charlie Bradshaw took over as coach and his grueling workouts left the roster with only 30 players as most of the Wildcats transferred or quit. Bryant was one of the few who remained, starting at both fullback and linebacker.
A long coaching career began at Whitley County, where he became the first head coach in the history of the program in 1964. After stops at Washington County and Owensboro Apollo, Bryant eventually found his way back to Harlan County where he assisted Hunter. Bryant had a memorable run with Jim Cullivan at Cawood in the 1980s, running the offense for a string of outstanding teams, including undefeated squads in both 1982 and 1985. Bryant was also an assistant principal at Cawood, a position he held until he retired.
Even in retirement, Bryant remained active. He was an avid runner who was considering participating in a marathon before he suffered a stroke in 2004.
“I was in the best shape of my life. I never thought I’d miss running 10 miles, but I do,” Bryant said. “I was thinking about running a marathon in Louisville or Cincinnati. I used to run real early, 5:30 or 6. I told Maxine I was going to run to Evarts one day. I made it to Coxton, and then I thought I better get back to Harlan.”
Over 50 walkers had showed up for the event at the halfway point of the two-hour window
“It turned out pretty well,” Carmical said. “We’re hoping in the next few years we can continue and increase the numbers.”