Ben Watkins, co-founder of iconic Dirt Bowl, dies

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – One of the founding members Louisville’s legendary basketball tournaments, The Dirt Bowl, has passed away.

Ben Watkins, 71, died on Saturday.

Watkins co-founded the summer basketball tournament in 1969, turning it into an annual staple in west Louisville’s Shawnee Park.

The tournament even inspired a 2016 book called, “I Said Bang! A History of the Dirt Bowl, the Crown Jewel of the Most Basketball-Obsessed City in America,” where Watkins and others discussed its roots and culture.

Watkins lauded the tournament as an opportunity for basketball players to build their skills while preparing for the next level.

“I mean this is what it’s about – community and it brings the community together. This is probably the only place other than the Kentucky Derby where you’ll see all walks of life come together through the Dirt Bowl,” tournament co-founder Ben Watkins told WHAS11 News in August 2019.

His community-building dream has inspired a rich history beyond the court and players who have went on to play on the collegiate or professional level.

The Louisville Story Program released a statement confirming Watkins’ passing:

“It is with heavy hearts that we report the passing of our dear friend Ben Watkins. When he founded the Dirt Bowl summer basketball tournament in 1969 as a 20-year-old kid, he had no idea that it would grow into one of the most beautiful grassroots community-building efforts that Louisville has ever seen, or that it would last for over 50 years. Without him, none of the Dirt Bowl’s rich, beautiful history would have been possible. It was an honor and a joy to collaborate with him on “I Said Bang!: A History of the Dirt Bowl” and to be able to count him as a friend for life. Mr. Ben was so kind, so warm, so gentle, so humble, so classy. He is gone way too soon. We love you, Mr. Ben, and we miss you so much already. We’re going to sit down and read back through your chapter tonight.”

The Dirt Bowl recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. 

It’s unclear how COVID-19 will affect this year’s tournament. 

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