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The Dirt Bowl's Co-Founder, Ben Watkins, Dies at 71

Ben Watkins
Amber Estes Thieneman
Ben Watkins

Ben Watkins, the cofounder of Louisville's Dirt Bowl, has died, according to media reports.

Watkins and Janis Miller were home from college and working for the parks and recreation department when they founded the Dirt Bowl basketball tournament in Algonquin Park (and later, Shawnee Park) in 1969.

The Dirt Bowl became a popular summer spectacle in Louisville. Listen to WFPL's special coverage of the Dirt Bowl in the player below.

89.3 WFPL News Louisville · I Said Bang! A History of the Dirt Bowl

Ravon Churchill, who narrated the documentary above, is on the Dirt Bowl's executive staff and is a part-time announcer. He said "Mr. Ben," as he called him, was proud of what the tournament became, yet humble.

Churchill said the last time he saw Watkins was at the luncheon celebrating last year's Dirt Bowl championship: the 50th.

"I do remember specifically he was in awe of what we were doing and what his baby had grown to be," Churchill said.

In WFPL's 2016 documentary "I Said Bang! A History Of The Dirt Bowl," Watkins said, "I'm not trying to brag on myself, but this is something I started, from my head."

Churchill said he's not sure if the Dirt Bowl will go on as usual this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But if it does, he expects people to show up.

"With his passing, though, I can tell already that there's going to be some kind of push to have something whenever, you know, we're ever to reopen," he said.

This summer's Dirt Bowl will depend on whether Mayor Greg Fischer, who Churchill described as a great supporter of the tournament, decides to relax restrictions that bar people from gathering in parks. Rims have been removed from basketball courts at public parts due to the pandemic.

Fischer commented on Watkins' passing Saturday night in a tweet.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.