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By JOSH CLAYWELL email@example.com
RADCLIFF — To go to graduation or to not go to graduation?
That is the question Matt Denham has to answer this weekend – either he walks the line during John Hardin High School’s graduation ceremony on Saturday night or he helps the Bulldogs’ 1,600-meter relay team try to win a state championship at the KHSAA State Track and Field Championships at the University of Louisville.
But with family coming to Radcliff from at least seven states around the country, Denham knew the answer.
“My parents (Paul and Kathy Denham) want me to walk the line,” Denham said. “We have a lot of family coming down to watch me graduate. I really had no say in it.”
But if Denham had his way, he’d stay at Owsley Frazier Cardinal Park to compete in the 1,600 relay along with seniors Aundreas Lopez and Stephen Warsaw and sophomore Brandon Bagley and run in the 200 dash, in which he is seeded ninth.
After he competes in the 400 dash, however, Denham will make the 45-minute trek back to Radcliff and prepare for graduation. Denham is seeded second in the 400 behind Louisville Male junior Justin Green.
“If I had my choice, I’d be up in Louisville,” Denham said. “I don’t want to let my teammates down. As a competitor, I want to be there.”
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
As a sophomore, Denham quit the track team. Denham was emerging as a star running back for John Hardin’s football team, and he didn’t see any reason to keep running track.
“I didn’t know anything about track back then,” Denham said. “I ended up quitting because of football practice, but I came back my junior year. I’m glad I came back and was able run.”
Denham said Lopez helped persuade him to come back the next year.
“My sophomore year I just didn’t want to work hard in track,” Denham said. “I was considering why I had to run so much in practice for one or two events at a meet. That really got to me.”
But now he understands why the practices are so lengthy.
“I realize now that you have to condition your body to be able to compete well,” Denham said.
FOOTBALL IS HIS PASSION
While he loves the thrill of any competition, Denham’s first love is and will always be on the gridiron.
Denham rushed for 1,588 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall, helping lead John Hardin to a 10-0 regular season and the quarterfinals of the Class 5-A state playoffs.
“I’d take football over track,” Denham said. “Football is more exciting than track. The atmosphere at a football game is much different than at a track meet.”
Denham signed a national letter of intent during the early signing period to play for Kentucky State University in Frankfort. The school offered Denham a partial athletic scholarship, but it wouldn’t be enough to cover the near $12,000-a-year tuition.
Enter the University of Kentucky, which offered Denham a full-ride academic scholarship a few months ago.
Since receiving the offer from UK, Denham has sought a release from Kentucky State, which denied the release about a month ago.
“It’s been a long process,” Denham said. “They’re not really giving me an affirmative answer.”
If Kentucky State doesn’t release Denham from his letter of intent, Denham cannot compete in any sports for UK until his sophomore year.
Denham plans to walk on to the football and track teams, and will appeal to the NCAA about the situation with Kentucky State.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” Denham said. “After a while you just want an answer. It’s been a frustrating process. My dad is pretty mad about it. He doesn’t understand why they won’t release me.”
I WALK THE LINE College will be the last thing on Denham’s mind on Saturday.
After running the 400 dash, he’ll turn his attention to graduation and his family, who is coming from Illinois, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia to watch him walk the line.
Lopez, who is staying with the team in Louisville, tried to convince Denham to skip graduation but to no avail.
“He tried to get me to skip, but my parents weren’t having any of it,” Denham said. “He came up with all kinds of excuses to get me to stay at State. It was pretty funny.”
Not even the chance to capture a state championship in the 1,600 relay could sway Denham or his parents.
“I want to run it. It’s going to be real hard to pass up,” Denham said. “We can beat Male in the race. I beat Justin (Green) earlier this year and he beat me later. I want to see if I can beat him again. It’s just going to be real hard for me to pass that up.”
But as Denham knows, you only graduate high school once.
Josh Claywell can be reached at 505-1752