Note: Special thanks are given to Ken Honchell, Dick Thompson and Bob Luecke, who had previously compiled historical information pertaining to the Fort Thomas Highlands High School football program, as well as Linda Johnson and the Highlands High School journalism department for the information contained in their book, Nine Decades of Excellence: A History of Football at Highlands, published by the school in 1993. Also, thanks are due to the members of BluegrassPreps.com for their insights and information regarding Highlands football.
Highlands High School is located in the city of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Fort Thomas, a residential community with a total population of approximately 17,000, is located a few miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, just across the Ohio River. Highlands High School (HHS) is the only high school in the Fort Thomas Independent School District (a public school district), which also includes three elementary schools (Robert D. Johnson, Ruth Moyer and Samuel Woodfill) and one middle school (Highlands Middle). Highlands High School, which has an enrollment of around 820 students (both boys and girls), is located at 2400 Memorial Parkway, Fort Thomas, Kentucky 41075. The current superintendent of the Fort Thomas Independent School District is Mr. Gene Kirchner and the current principal of Highlands High School is Mr. Brian Robinson. Academically, the high school and entire school district are regarded as outstanding throughout the state of Kentucky. In 2008, Highlands High School was honored with a High Schools That Work Gold Achievement Award, presented nationally to only 16 schools. In 2012, Highlands was named one of the nation's "Best High Schools" by Newsweek.
Highlands High School has been in existence since 1888 and the school has been playing football since 1915. The first call for football occurred on September 17, 1915, and Highlands' first football practice was held in the school auditorium on October 18, 1915. Fort Thomas Highlands captured its first of many titles in only its second year playing football, winning the Northern Kentucky championship in 1916 after defeating Covington 9-6. Initially, Highlands, whose team colors are blue and white, played its football games at Midway Field, located on the Fort Thomas military post. On November 15, 1918, Highlands played its first game at Highlands High School (hosting Fort Thomas Midway), and since then Highlands' home games have been played at the school. Highlands High School installed field lighting in 1934, thereby allowing games to be played after dark; the first night game ever played at Highlands occurred on September 22, 1934, against Cincinnati Saint Xavier. The Highlands football team, nicknamed the Bluebirds (or 'Birds, for short), currently plays its home games at David Cecil Memorial Stadium (capacity: 4700), located right behind the high school building. The stadium, which originally opened in 1949, is named in honor of David Cecil, a student-athlete at Highlands who died on November 11, 1952, after sustaining a serious football-related injury. The stadium's field consisted of natural grass until 2002, when artificial Fieldturf was installed. The Highlands football team conducts its practices in "Death Valley," which is adjacent to the school and stadium. Interestingly, Highlands' football team was nicknamed the Blue Devils for a period of time in the 1920s and 1930s. A longstanding and well-known tradition at Highlands had been the firing of an 800-pound cannon during every home game from 1968 through the 2008 season; the cannon has since been retired for safety and liability reasons. In 2009, Highlands began audio broadcasting all Bluebirds varsity football games live over the internet.
Over the years, several Highlands football players have garnered national recognition for their high school football achievements. In 1964, Chuck Kyle was named an All-American by Scholastic Magazine. In 1966, Hank Pogue was named a Parade All-American. In 2000, Brent Grover was named a US Army All-American and a Student Sports All-American. Brett Hamblen and Gino Guidugli were also named Student Sports All-Americans in 2000. In 2001, Rob Smith was named a US Army All-American, a Parade All-American and a USA Today All-American. In 2009, Austin Collinsworth was named a US Army All-American. In 2011, Patrick Towles was named a Parade All-American and an ESPN All-American. At the state level, two Highlands players have won the Kentucky Mr. Football Award, given annually to the state's top prep football player since 1986. Quarterback Jared Lorenzen won this award in 1998 and quarterback Patrick Towles earned this honor in 2011. Despite producing countless outstanding football players, the Highlands football program has only retired the jersey numbers of two of its gridiron greats: John Burt (No. 40), who graduated in 1961, and Marty Moore (No. 43), who graduated in 1989.
Fort Thomas Highlands is currently a member of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA), and has been with this organization since 1920. In addition, Highlands is a charter member of Kentucky's oldest athletic conference, the Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference (NKAC), joining this body when it was first created in 1922; the 'Birds are in Division II of this organization. Beginning in 1959, the KHSAA organized prep football into classes based upon school student body size. From 1959 through 1974 Kentucky had three classes of football - A, AA and AAA (with Class A being for the smallest schools and Class AAA being for the largest schools). During that period of time, Highlands was assigned to Class AA. From 1975 through 2006 the KHSAA organized prep football teams into four classes - A, AA, AAA and AAAA (with Class A being for the smallest schools and Class AAAA being for the largest schools). During that time span, Highlands played in Class AAA. The KHSAA then made another change to the classification scheme; from 2007 up to the present time, Kentucky prep football has been organized into six classes - 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A (with Class 1A being for the smallest schools and Class 6A being for the largest schools). From 2007 through 2010 Fort Thomas Highlands played in Class 5A. The Bluebirds have been assigned to play in Class 4A beginning in 2011. From 1959 up to the present, Highlands has won five Class 2A state football titles, 11 Class 3A state football titles, two Class 4A football titles and four Class 5A state football titles, for a total of 22 official state football championships. Before 1959, no official state football titles were awarded in Kentucky. However, various media groups and organizations did crown "mythical" state football champions. Highlands claims three "mythical" state football titles during the pre-championship era, for a grand total of 25 state football titles.
Although the Bluebirds have had notable rivalries with several Northern Kentucky football programs over the years, there is one rivalry that stands head and shoulders above the rest - the Highlands-Covington Catholic rivalry. Indeed, this heated rivalry is considered the biggest prep football rivalry in all of Northern Kentucky. The Bluebirds and Colonels have played each other a total of 60 times going into the 2013 season (with Highlands winning 43 of these games), and many of the contests between these two district foes have not only crowned the district champion but have also determined the state champion in a given year. While Covington Catholic has been the Bluebirds' fiercest competitor, Covington Holmes has played against Highlands more than any other opponent; Holmes has played Highlands 71 times heading into the 2013 season. Even though the 'Birds have faced stiff competition from the area football programs, Highlands has a winning record against every Northern Kentucky school it has played. Overall, the Bluebirds possess an all-time record of 568 wins, 125 losses and 16 ties against Northern Kentucky opponents (opponents from the geographical area comprised of Boone, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Mason and Pendleton counties), representing a winning percentage of 81.24%.
Highlands holds several current official Kentucky state high school football records, including all-time wins (842), undefeated seasons (13), touchdowns in a season (121, in 2011), points in a season (849, in 2011) extra points made in a season (104, in 2011), total yards in a season (7517, in 2011), consecutive state championships (six) and most championship wins by a head coach (Dale Mueller, with 11). Highlands holds a tie for the state record for the longest touchdown pass (99 yards, in 1996 and 2008), touchdown passes in a game (nine, in 2000) and touchdown receptions by an individual player in a game (Brett Hamblen - six, in 2000). Heading into the 2013 season HHS is tied for first in the state with 22 official state championship titles (tied with Louisville Trinity). In addition to Highlands' statewide records, the Bluebirds currently rank second nationally in all-time football wins and the program has been nationally ranked in the top 25 in the final national football rankings at the conclusion of eight football seasons: 1982, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2009. For five of those seasons (1982, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2009), Highlands has been ranked in the final USA Today Super 25. In 2009, Highlands finished the season ranked third nationally in the USA Today Super 25; this represents the second-highest national ranking a Kentucky prep football team has ever achieved in the USA Today Super 25, widely considered to be the nation's most prestigious prep football ranking list. Highlands' current streak of six consecutive state championships ranks tied for first nationally in current consecutive title runs.
In addition to its various records and rankings, Highlands' football program holds other notable distinctions. The Student Sports National High School Football Record Book has named Highlands the top public-school prep football program in Kentucky, and one of the top 50 prep football programs in the nation. In 2003, the Cincinnati Post named the 1998 Highlands squad Northern Kentucky's best prep football team in history, and in 2002 the Cincinnati Enquirer, in conjunction with sports writers from the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, identified the 1998 Highlands team and the 1988 Louisville Trinity team as the two greatest Kentucky prep football teams since the beginning of the statewide playoff era in 1959. In 2007, Highlands was invited to participate in the annual Herbstreit Football Series. This event is considered to be the nation's premier prep football showcase and features several of the country's best football programs. The Bluebirds defeated Trotwood-Madison (Ohio) 24-20 at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium in the "Herbie." Highlands is one of only two Kentucky prep football programs to play in this prestigious event and is the only Kentucky football program to win a game in the Herbstreit Football Series. In addition to these accolades, Highlands Bluebirds football games have been televised locally on several occasions, and in 2009 the Highlands-Cincinnati Saint Xavier game was aired on national television (the CBS College Sports Network); Highlands defeated Cincinnati Saint Xavier 12-7 at David Cecil Memorial Stadium in the contest. This was the first prep football game featuring a Kentucky team to be televised nationally since 1990.
Heading into the 2013 season, Fort Thomas Highlands has played a total of 1093 games against 132 different opponents, including 140 games against 27 different Ohio programs and two games against two different Indiana programs. The 'Birds enter 2013 with an overall record of 842 wins, 225 losses and 26 ties, translating into a winning percentage of 78.22%. Highlands possesses a winning percentage of 60.56% against out-of-state competition (83 wins, 53 losses and six ties). Also, the 'Birds have had winning seasons for 88 of the 98 years the program has been playing football. Highlands currently has a streak of 57 consecutive winning seasons, dating back to the 1956 season.
The current head football coach and athletic director at HHS is Dale Mueller. Mr. Mueller, an alumnus of Highlands who played football for the Bluebirds, attended college and received his engineering degree from Cornell University. He has spent the past 19 years at HHS as the head coach of the football team, beginning in 1994. Prior to that, Mr. Mueller was the head football coach at Cincinnati Sycamore High School (1991-1993) and Cincinnati Withrow High School (1984-1990). While at Highlands, Coach Mueller has won 11 Kentucky state football championships, the most football head coaching titles in Kentucky history. He has taken the Bluebirds to the state title game a total of 13 times. Coach Mueller has led the 'Birds to playoff appearances every year while coaching at Highlands. He currently ranks 24th on the all-time Kentucky football coaching wins list. Mr. Mueller has won numerous coaching honors, most notably the 2008 Paul Brown Excellence in Coaching Award, presented by the Cincinnati Bengals to a prep football coach in the Greater Cincinnati area, and the Russell Athletic National High School Coach of the Year Award, which was presented during the US Army All-American Bowl in January 2010. Mr. Mueller was the first Kentucky football coach to receive these prestigious awards.
Coach Mueller follows a long line of successful and distinguished coaches at Highlands. Before Coach Mueller, HHS was led by Tom Duffy. Coach Duffy (1988-1993), who left his job as head coach at Danville High School to come to HHS, won two Class AAA state titles with Highlands before moving on to coach for Henderson County High School. He currently ranks 27th on the all-time Kentucky football coaching wins list. Before him, Jack Eicher coached from 1984-1987. Bill Herrmann was the head coach of the 'Birds from 1976-1983, and while at Highlands he and the 'Birds won three state championships. Coach Roger Walz (1974-1975) led the Bluebirds to one state title while at HHS. Mike Murphy won two state championships with the Bluebirds while he coached from 1967-1973. Coaching great Owen Hauck was in charge of the football program from 1962-1966, and won one state football title during that time. When Owen Hauck retired from high school football coaching (he ended his career as the head coach at Boone County High School), he had amassed 258 wins in Kentucky (plus 26 wins as head coach at Mount Healthy High School, in Ohio), currently 15th on the all-time Kentucky football coaching wins list.
Prior to Owen Hauck, Homer Rice was the head football coach for the 'Birds. Dr. Rice is arguably the most honored and respected individual ever to be associated with the Fort Thomas Highlands football program. Dr. Rice was an all-state quarterback and football team captain while a student at Highlands. He went on to play quarterback for Centre College and later received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in sports management from Columbia Pacific University. Before returning to his alma mater, Dr. Rice coached at Wartburg (Central) High School in Tennessee in 1951, posting a 10-0 record, and at Spring City High School in Tennessee from 1952-1953, registering 10-0 and 11-0 seasons. As the head football coach at HHS from 1954-1961, he won two Class AA state championships and one "mythical" state championship in 1957 (Kentucky high school football did not begin playing statewide championship games until 1959). Of note, Dr. Rice received the Winningest Football Coach in America Award in 1961, presented by the Helms Foundation. It was also during his high school coaching days when Dr. Rice became an early architect of triple option football. After leaving the high school game, Dr. Rice moved up to the college coaching ranks. During the course of his college coaching career, Dr. Rice was an assistant football coach at the University of Kentucky and the University of Oklahoma, and was the head football coach at the University of Cincinnati and Rice University. He was also the head coach of the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals from 1978-1979. In addition to his coaching jobs, Dr. Rice served as the athletic director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rice University and finally Georgia Tech, where he concluded his distinguished career in 1997. Dr. Rice, a World War II Navy veteran, has written several books, including Homer Rice on Triple Option Football, Lessons for Leaders: Building a Winning Team from the Ground Up, Leadership Fitness: Developing and Reinforcing Successful, Positive Leaders and Winning Football with the Air Option Passing Game. For his many achievements, Dr. Rice was inducted into the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1988. Many consider Homer Rice to be the man most responsible for the tremendous success Highlands football has enjoyed over the last half-century, due not only to his accomplishments as a coach but also to his role as a founding member of the Fort Thomas Junior Football League.
From 1942-1953, Ewell Waddell was the head coach, and he won one "mythical" state championship during his tenure (in 1943). The previous head coaches at Highlands were: Bernie Sadosky (1938-1941), Honey Rader (1937), Walter "Rip" Van Winkle (1932-1936), Homer Jackson (1926-1931, winning one "mythical" state championship in 1930), Collis "Pop" Jorden (1923-1925), J. H. Keck (1922), John Gillespie (1917-1921), Gosnell Layman (1916) and Thomas Lewis (1915).
Fort Thomas Highlands has produced several current head football coaches in Kentucky. Besides Coach Dale Mueller (HHS Class of 1973), the following Highlands alumni are current head coaches: Grant County head coach Kevin Siple (HHS Class of 1979), Louisville Male head coach Chris Wolfe (HHS Class of 1990), Walton-Verona head coach Jeff Barth (HHS Class of 1995) and Campbell County head coach Steve Lickert (HHS Class of 1997).
A book, Fort Thomas Highlands Football, has been written that details the great accomplishments of the football program. Written by Fort Thomas historian Bill Thomas and published in 2008 by Arcadia Publishing as part of its "Images of Sports" series, this volume is the only book featuring a Kentucky prep football program to be published by a major publishing company, and is the only book about a prep football program to be put out by Arcadia Publishing. The school has also produced a volume covering the Highlands football tradition. Entitled Nine Decades of Excellence: A History of Football at Highlands, this book was published in 1993.
Highlands built and maintains its impressive football tradition by relying on the strong, unwavering support of the Fort Thomas community. Highlands High School, and indeed the entire school district have won national recognition for their educational achievements. The school and school district are considered top-notch throughout the state of Kentucky. Because of this, the school truly is the pride of the entire community. That is why Fort Thomas places such an emphasis on the school's success, both academic and athletic. The Highlands Bluebirds football program embodies this sentiment, as it has touched the lives of so many Fort Thomas residents over the course of the last century, and there is no reason to believe this trend will ever cease. All the Highlands student-athletes, students, teachers, coaches, school administrators, parents and fans have played such key roles in nurturing the football program throughout the years, and this website is dedicated to all of them.
Of special note, the webmaster's wife, Taufika I. Williams, Ph.D., and the website design company, Athlete Web Services, Inc., deserve many thanks for their assistance in designing this website, which is the official website of the Fort Thomas Highlands football program.
Joseph Williams, M.D.
Highlands High School Class of 1995
Website originally created in May 2005 and upgraded in September 2010