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Maddie Scherr got early start on journey to basketball stardom

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BY MIKE FIELDS

One of the first steps Maddie Scherr took on the road to becoming a basketball star was, of course, a Euro step.

She was just a fourth-grader when she learned the deft offensive move from her older brother Cooper and his buddies.

“I played with him and all his friends in our backyard, and they taught me all the cool stuff, like the Euro step,” Maddie said.

When she played AAU ball as a fifth-grader for the Kentucky Royals, her precocity wasn’t taken for granted. Before games, Royals coach Tricia Macke would have Maddie demonstrate her Euro step to the referees so they wouldn’t mistakenly call traveling.

Rick and Amy Scherr laugh when they recall those early days of their daughter’s basketball career.

When she was still in the fifth grade, they were — ahem — a tad skeptical when she set a few lofty goals: winning a state championship; earning Miss […]

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Breckinridge County’s oh-so-sweet state title 25 years ago

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 26, 2020)

HARNED – The specks of gray in Patrick Critchelow’s beard stubble are the first reminder on this visit to Breckinridge County that it has been 25 years – a quarter century! — since the undersized and underrated Fighting Tigers, led by their unflappable point guard, rolled into Rupp Arena, won the hearts of fans with a dazzling display of team basketball, and earned themselves the Sweet Sixteen title.

Critchelow, who was MVP of that state tournament, then tells you he’s been the head coach at Breckinridge County for 13 years now, and that he and his wife Kari have three kids. The oldest, daughter Lily, is a sophomore on the girls’ basketball team.

Bradley Payne, who was Critchelow’s shooting-guard sidekick, is also here to reminisce about those championship days. He still has boyish looks, but he’s been in coaching for more than two decades, and is currently head associate […]

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Father & sons & their LexCath basketball legacy

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 20, 2020)

After Lexington Catholic junior star Ben Johnson poured in 42 points to power the Knights past Madison Central 78-75 in overtime last week, Indians Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. confessed to having seen just about enough of Ben and his brothers, Tanner and Luke.

“I think every one of them has had a game against us where they’ve had at least 30-something,” Feldhaus said with a smile.

He’s got a good memory.

In 2015, Tanner hit nine three-pointers on his way to 43 points in a win over Madison Central.

In 2016, Luke put up 31 points in a loss to the Indians.

Last year, Ben had 40 points in a loss to Feldhaus’ team. Last week he topped that in Lexington Catholic’s OT escape.

“Thank goodness he’s the last one,” Feldhaus said of Ben and his brothers.

Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman, on the other hand, doesn’t want to even […]

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Greg Buckner goes from underappreciated to KHSAA Hall of Fame

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 29, 2020)

Who is the most underappreciated Kentucky high school basketball star of the last 30 years?

I’d go with a guy who as a sophomore helped his team win a state title, and as a senior averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and got back to the Sweet Sixteen; who went on to start 122 consecutive college games for a Power Five conference school; and who played in the NBA for 10 years and served as an assistant coach for two NBA teams.

I’d go with Greg Buckner.

Buckner didn’t get the recognition he deserved from his home-state fans when he was in high school (or thereafter) because he played at University Heights Academy.

But he’s getting his just dues now. Buckner will be inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame this spring.

To say he appreciates the honor would be an understatement.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said in a […]

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Stan Steidel’s All ‘A’ legacy lives on and prospers

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 26, 2020)

RICHMOND — Stan Steidel, the founding father of the All “A” Classic, passed away a few months ago, but his legacy is very much alive, and still providing athletic and educational opportunities for high school athletes across Kentucky.

The state-wide small-school basketball tournament celebrated its 30th anniversary this week, capped by the girls’ and boys’ finals in front of cheering crowds under the bright lights in EKU’s McBrayer Arena Sunday afternoon.

Stan Steidel would have loved it.

He was involved in high school sports in a myriad of ways for more than 50 years, in roles ranging from coach to athletic director to superintendent, but his signature accomplishment was the All “A”.

“This was his baby, this was his heart,” said Louise Steidel, Stan’s wife of 56 years.

Louise, along with daughters Jennifer Jones and Melanie Pelle, and several other family members, were recognized during tributes to Stan at […]

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Ashland Tomcats basketball ‘is our community’

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 8, 2020)

ASHLAND – The bounce is back in Ashland basketball. For Tomcat fans of all ages, that means all is right in the world of high school hoops.

We’re talking about a symbiotic relationship here. The city and its hardwood heroes feed off one another. There’s a livelier vibe around this northeast Kentucky town when the Tomcats are winning, and the team seems to step up its game when the gym is loud and proud.

That’s the way it’s been for more than 100 years.

Ashland’s boys’ basketball history includes a state runner-up finish in 1920; state and national championships in 1928; back-to-back state titles in 1933 and ’34; a fourth state crown in 1961, and a fourth state runner-up in 1996.

The Tomcats have won more state tournament games — 49 – than anybody.

And — trumpets, please — just a few weeks ago Ashland became the first high […]

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New coaches, old hands take reins at pressure-packed programs PRP & Scott County

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 19, 2019)

When Billy Hicks and Dale Mabrey – the two winningest coaches in the history of Kentucky high school basketball – retired after last season, they left high-profile but pressure-packed positions to fill at Scott County and Pleasure Ridge Park.

In 25 years at Scott County, Hicks guided the Cardinals to two state championships, five state runners-up, and 13 region titles. (Overall, in 37 years as a head coach, he won 1,013 games.)

In 38 years at PRP, Mabrey’s Panthers won a state championship, were state runners-up twice, claimed 13 region titles, and won 937 games.

Talk about tough acts to follow.

But long-time assistants Tim Glenn and Larry Kihnley were willing and able to step into the breach. One jumped at the chance while the other balked at first.

Glenn, who has been in the Scott County system since 1995 and joined Hicks’ varsity staff in 2001, didn’t hesitate […]

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Mountain football battle hymn has championship ring(s)

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 6, 2019)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of mountain football over the past few decades, including Pikeville’s three consecutive state titles under Hillard Howard, Tim Couch’s national record-setting career at Leslie County, and the blossoming of Belfry, Bell County, Breathitt County and Johnson Central into championship programs.

But mine eyes witnessed the zenith of mountain football on Friday at Kroger Field: All four teams in the KHSAA title games hailed from Eastern Kentucky, and one of the matchups featured the two winningest coaches in state history.

Pikeville pounded Paintsville 43-0 to win the Class A championship, and Belfry beat Bell County 30-20 to claim the 3A trophy.

The two games drew more than 16,000 fans to Kroger Field.

Never before in KHSAA playoff history had two mountain teams won state titles on the same day. (In 2015, Pikeville was crowned champ on a Thursday, and Belfry was crowned on a […]

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Stan Steidel’s legacy: a champion for smaller schools

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 6, 2019)

Stan Steidel, who tirelessly championed athletic opportunities for smaller high schools, and established the All “A” Classic as his hallmark, died this week in an automobile accident near his home in Northern Kentucky. He was 78.

“Stan’s driving force was he just wanted to do for kids,” said Gary Munsie, Steidel’s friend for more than 40 years and an All “A” board member since the tournament’s inception 30 years ago.

Steidel was involved in high school sports in a lot of ways during his career. He was a basketball and football coach at Dayton. He was a long-time athletic director at Dayton and Holmes. He served on the KHSAA Board of Control for 16 years. He headed the Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference for more than two decades.

But he cemented his legacy by spearheading the creation of the All “A” Classic, a state basketball tournament for small schools.

“Stan […]

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‘Cotton’ & Corbin & Redhounds football

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Oct. 28, 2019)

CORBIN – On a clear, crisp October morning recently, Larry “Cotton” Adams sat in the concrete stands at Denes Stadium and recalled the first time he ever saw the Corbin Redhounds play football.

It was 1955. He was 9 years old. And the magic unfolded on this very field in front of him.

“I remember the opening kickoff. Calvin Bird took it to the house.  I remember he hurdled a tackler at midfield,” Adams said, motioning toward the 50-yard line.

“It was something.”

It was something that would change his life.

The community of Corbin has had a special relationship with its high school football team for the better part of a century. The Redhounds have claimed mythical or official state titles in 1939, 1955, 1976, 1980 and 1982. They were runners-up in 1962, 1977, 1990, 2002, 2017 and 2018.

The fans here demand success as if it were […]

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Not even his dad could have predicted Justin Thomas’ rapid rise to stardom

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Sept. 30, 2019)

When Justin Thomas won the KHSAA state golf title in 2009, could anyone have predicted that just 10 years later he would be regarded as one the best players on the planet?

He’s already won 10 times on the PGA TOUR, including a PGA Championship, a FedEx Cup title and a WGC event, and has spent time ranked No. 1 in the world.

He’s also earned more than $30 million.

And he’s only 26.

Could anybody have looked into a crystal ball and seen this kind of success for Thomas when he was winning the state high school title as a 16-year-old junior at St. Xavier?

“No way, no way,” said Mike Thomas, Justin’s dad, and the head pro at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen.

“So many members of the club and people in the Louisville community would always forecast these great things about Justin. Everybody was telling […]

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Ma-ma & football shaped Donnell Gordon’s character & career

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Sept. 9, 2019)

Sgt. Donnell Gordon gets a lot of TV time in Central Kentucky these days as a spokesman for the Lexington Police Department.

If the name sounds familiar, yes, it’s the same Donnell Gordon who was the best high school football player in the state 27 years ago.

He won the Paul Hornung Award as the top player in Kentucky in 1992 after rushing for more than 6,300 yards and 61 touchdowns in his career at South Oldham. Gatorade also honored him as the best in the Bluegrass State that year.

(Paducah Tilghman quarterback Billy Jack Haskins won Mr. Football.)

Gordon went on to play college football at Kentucky and Louisville.

With broad shoulders and thick chest, he still looks like he could suit up and make defenders tremble before trying to tackle him.

He wears a different uniform now — police blue — but just like in football, he’s […]

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David Cornelius loved to whistle while he worked as football official

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Aug. 19, 2019)

STANFORD – David Cornelius doesn’t know what he’ll be doing the first Friday night of this high school football season, but for the first time in decades he won’t be pulling on a striped shirt, slipping a whistle around his neck and taking the field for the game he loves.

Cornelius, 65, decided a few months ago that because of failing eyesight he had to give up officiating.

To say he’s going to miss it would be an understatement.

“It’s killing me to quit,” he said, trying to gather his emotions. “I loved it so much. It’s like losing a family member.

“What will I do Friday night? I don’t know yet. I guess I’ll go to a game, but it’ll be really hard.”

His wife Jessica knows it will be a difficult transition for him.

“The happiest I’ve ever seen him was when Friday would get here. He […]

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Hall of Famer Mary Custard-Austin: “If you tell me ‘no,’ I’m going after it even harder”

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 19, 2019)

Mary Custard-Austin was an incredible athlete at Harrison County High School — a 2,000-point scorer in basketball and a five-time state champion in track – who readily admits she was “blessed with natural talent” that allowed her “to go out and do things that other people struggled to do.

“I was humbled I had that gift,” she added.

But talent alone is like a Ferrari without fuel: it won’t get you where you want to go.

Custard-Austin’s accomplishments were also the result of a remarkable work ethic that her mom helped instill in her: “She kept telling me, ‘There’s always someone out there bigger and badder, so you can’t take a break.’”

When Custard-Austin is inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame on April 27 in Lexington, she’ll acknowledge that it not only took natural talent and hard work to achieve success in sports and in life, but also […]

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Eric Shelton says KHSAA Hall of Fame honor was a team effort

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 2, 2019)

When Eric Shelton looks back on his high school days at Bryan Station, he doesn’t focus on football, or the touchdowns he scored, the headlines he earned, the victories he celebrated, the awards he received.

“What I remember most was just living life without a care in the world, and appreciating my friends and my fellowship with them,” he said by phone from his home in Charlotte, N.C.

When Shelton is inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame later this month, he will credit those friends for helping him earn this honor.

“I really wouldn’t be here, I don’t even know how far I would’ve made it out of high school, if it wasn’t for my teammates, my friends,” he said. “Granted, I had God-given ability to run fast, to be strong and to jump high, but we had a great team, including great players and great coaches. They […]

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Kelly Coleman still the ‘King’ of Kentucky high school basketball

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 22, 2019)

WAYLAND – They came from all over the state, finding their way from Ashland, Bowling Green, Frankfort, Lexington, Louisville, Monticello, Paintsville and Pikeville, winding their way through the mountains of eastern Kentucky on the first full day of spring, so they could be here to welcome Kelly Coleman home from the hospital and to make sure he knew he will forever reign as the king of Kentucky high school basketball.

“King” Kelly Coleman is 80 now and fighting health issues, but his blue eyes are still clear and piercing; he still has the bearing of a man who demands respect, and his accomplishments from six decades ago still amaze.

That’s why more than 40 people, including three of Coleman’s fellow Mr. Basketball winners, a Miss Basketball, an Olympian, and a collection of distinguished coaches, gathered at the Wayland Historical Community Center (and its Mountain Sports Hall of Fame) on […]

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Surefire: Scherr-fired Ryle rolls to Girls’ Sweet Sixteen title

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 17, 2019)

Orange and black – not green — were the winning colors on St. Patrick’s Day as the Ryle Lady Raiders rolled to the championship of the 58th KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen before 5,607 fans in Rupp Arena.

Ryle, whose school colors are orange and black, dominated Southwestern 63-48 in Sunday afternoon’s finals to become only the second Northern Kentucky girls’ team to win a state title. (Covington Holy Cross cut down the nets in 2015.)

Maddie Scherr, one of the top juniors in the nation, was named the tournament’s MVP after exemplifying what it means to be an all-around player.

The 5-foot-11 point guard totaled 52 points, 31 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals and 9 rebounds in helping Ryle sweep past Murray, Clark County, Owensboro Catholic and Southwestern.

“Maddie is so unselfish,” Lady Raiders Coach Katie Haitz said. “She’s just unbelievable . . . her ball-handling, knowing the […]

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Boyd County’s loss can’t dim the shine on Savannah Wheeler’s career

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 14, 2019)

Savannah Wheeler has what her parents call “Savannah moments.”

Like when she was a third-grader and tagged along with older sister Taylor to a basketball camp at Transylvania. Savannah liked that she got to play in a game, but what she really, really liked was the camp’s soft-serve ice cream.

“The next year when they went back to camp the ice-cream machine was broken. Savannah didn’t want to go back to Transy again,” her dad Dave said with a laugh.

Or like when she was a sixth-grader and dressed out for Boyd County’s varsity, and Coach Pete Fraley looked down the bench to put her into a game one night. Savannah was nowhere to be found. “She got hungry and went to the concession stand to get a candy bar,” her dad explained.

“That’s Savannah,” her mom Tracy added. “She just kinda does her thing; she’s just a special […]

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Robin Harmon & Irene Moore would’ve loved to play in Rupp Arena

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 13, 2019)

Robin Harmon-Newsome was a high-scoring basketball star who led Sheldon Clark to four consecutive appearances in the KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen from 1975-78.

Irene Moore Strong was a 5-foot-3, 108-pound dynamo who sparked Breathitt County to the state tournament as a junior and senior. After she led the Bobcats to a runner-up finish in 1978, she was named Miss Basketball.

Harmon and Moore, who will be inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame this summer, remember those good ol’ days with appreciation and nostalgia.

Playing in the Sweet Sixteen in EKU’s Alumni Coliseum was a big thrill.

But what if, instead, they had gotten to play in Rupp Arena, where the girls’ state tournament will be held for the first time this week?

“Oh, wow! That would’ve been a dream come true,” Harmon said. “I’m sure I always dreamed of it, but I never got to […]

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Hall of Famer Kandi Brown-Parker recalls her sweetest Sweet Sixteen

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 12, 2019)

There have been a lot of sweet moments in the history of the KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen, but the sweetest of all may have been the one shared by a coach and his daughter in the glow of a championship almost 20 years ago.

During a timeout in the closing seconds of West Carter’s 58-50 victory over Shelby County in the 2000 state finals, Lady Comets Coach John “Hop” Brown wrapped his arms around his daughter Kandi, who had just hit a clinching free throw in front of 6,500 fans in EKU’s McBrayer Arena.

“I can still remember so vividly that embrace he and I had,” Kandi Brown-Parker said this week. “That was probably my favorite moment ever with him. That hug was just awesome.”

Brown-Parker will be remembering that moment when she is inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame on April 27 in Lexington.

She said she […]

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Billy Hicks: “This was my last game”

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 10, 2019)

Nobody has coached basketball harder than Billy Hicks has coached basketball over the last four decades. If he wore a blood-pressure cup on the sidelines, the numbers would scare the bejeebers out of his doctor, not to mention his wife Betsy.

He has coached almost 1,300 high school games and won 1,013 of them. His winning percentage is a stunning 79%.

He has guided 14 teams to the Sweet Sixteen, 13 of them at Scott County over the last 25 years. He’s won more state tournament games — 33 — than any other coach. His Cardinals won 2 state championships (1998 and 2007).

Those aren’t just numbers. They represent a life’s work — a passion — that has consumed Hicks since he began coaching back home in Harlan County more than 40 years ago.

But Sunday afternoon in Rupp Arena, after Trinity beat Scott County 50-40 in the finals of […]

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Trinity wins state title behind humble hero David Johnson

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 10, 2019)

David Johnson has to be one the most self-effacing, ego-averse MVPs in the history of the Sweet Sixteen.

After the gifted 6-foot-5 senior had 22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 2 assists to spark Trinity past Scott County 50-40 in the finals of the 102nd Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ State Basketball Tournament in Rupp Arena on Sunday afternoon, he steadfastly refused the mantle of hero.

Reporters tried to elicit some acknowledgment from Johnson on his fabulous play by asking him questions about his clutch shooting and his gnarly defense, but his answers always circled back to his teammates.

What about his buzzer-beating three-pointer from the right wing to close the first half that tied the game (22-22) and prompted Trinity’s other players to do a happy dance to the locker room?

“I know my teammates are going to feed off of it, but none of that stuff fazes me,” […]

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Twin brothers having a Jolly good time in Rupp

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 8, 2019)

The Jolly twins – Grant and Reid – are having a ball in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen this week, but then they’ve been having a ball playing ball – be it basketball, football, baseball or golf — whether as teammates or sibling rivals, all their lives.

The Campbell County seniors have helped the Camels win two games in the state tournament for the first time in school history. They knocked off undefeated John Hardin 61-60 on Wednesday, and followed that up with a 49-42 victory over Walton-Verona on Friday.

That puts Campbell County in the Sweet Sixteen semifinals against Trinity Saturday night in Rupp Arena.

“We’ve been talking about this forever,” Reid said. “Last year we won our first-ever game here, and since the beginning of this season we were looking to go farther. We’ve done that.”

Reid, a 6-foot-5, 195-pounder, has been the Camels’ star. He […]

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CovCath’s near-miracle comeback, play-by-play

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 7, 2019)

Take your pick.

It was almost the greatest comeback in Sweet Sixteen history, or almost the greatest collapse in Sweet Sixteen history.

Scott County led defending champion Covington Catholic 48-26 with 5:47 left and was cruising down easy street in their first-round showdown in the 102nd Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ State Tournament Thursday afternoon.

The top-rated Cardinals were still comfortably ahead — 60-41 — with 1:34 remaining, and 90% of the fans had exited Rupp Arena.

Then CovCath mounted an incredible rally. The Colonels went on an 18-0 run in a 67-second span.

Alas, the comeback fell just short, and Scott County escaped with a 64-61 victory.

Here’s how the frantic finish unfolded after Terrin Hamilton hit two free throws to give Scott County a 60-41 lead with 1:34 remaining:

  • CovCath Jack Davin 3-pointer: 60:44 w/1:10 left
  • Scott County turnover
  • CovCath Michael Mayer layup: 60:46 w/1:10 left
  • Scott County […]

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Billy Hicks, through the eyes of his wife Betsy

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 7, 2019)

Betsy Hicks has been watching her husband coach basketball for more than four decades, from Evarts to Harlan to Corbin to Scott County, and in that time she’s missed only a handful of his games.

In late January, when Billy Hicks became the first high school basketball coach in Kentucky to reach 1,000 victories, Betsy figured she had witnessed 990 of them.

A couple of weeks earlier, however, she had witnessed an even more remarkable “first” in her husband’s coaching career.

On Jan. 12, when Scott County was rolling to an 87-57 home-court rout of Ashland Blazer, Billy Hicks left at halftime so he could get to the hospital for the birth of his first grandchild.

“I was shocked, definitely shocked,” Betsy said. “That’s the only time in my life he’s left a ball game. I mean I’ve been on my deathbed before and he still went and coached […]

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Brewers’ basketball perfection secure in history for another year

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 6, 2019)

Only a few minutes after John Hardin lost in the first round of the 102nd KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Wednesday night, a phone call was placed to Barney Thweatt, who lives in Benton in the far reaches of western Kentucky.

Had Thweatt heard that Campbell County had knocked off previously undefeated John Hardin 61-60?

Thweatt, who’ll turn 89 later this month, couldn’t stifle his laughter of joy and relief.

“Yes, I listened to it all,” he said. “Nothing against John Hardin, but I’m glad they got beat. You know how selfish I am.”

Thweatt played on the last undefeated boys’ state title team in Kentucky — Brewers, a small school in Marshall County that went 36-0 on its way to the 1948 Sweet Sixteen championship.

It is a source of pride with Thweatt that no boys’ team since has been able to match Brewers’ accomplishment of perfection.

He was well […]

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A special basketball day for the Brannen family

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 6, 2019)

Debbie and John Brannen didn’t stick around Rupp Arena for long after watching their son Grant coach Walton-Verona to a 76-54 victory over Knox Central in the opening game of the 102nd KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Wednesday afternoon.

The Brannens had to book it back up I-75 so they could watch their son John coach Northern Kentucky University against Detroit Mercy at BB&T Arena in the Horizon League tournament Wednesday night.

First, though, they had to stop off at home and change clothes, switching their Walton-Verona colors (blue & white) for NKU colors (black & gold).

The proud basketball parents are on the road a lot during the winter, catching all the Walton-Verona and NKU games they can.

Debbie estimates that comes to 60 or 70 games a season, with her and husband splitting up when there are scheduling conflicts.

If you include the youth league games their grandkids play, […]

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The last six unbeaten teams that got beat in the Sweet Sixteen

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 6, 2019)

Since Brewers was crowned Boys’ Sweet Sixteen champion with a 36-0 record in 1948, six teams have entered the state tournament undefeated, but none have left holding the big trophy.

This year another unbeaten team will give it a try. John Hardin, out of the 5th Region, is 35-0. The Bulldogs will face 10th Region champ Campbell County in the first round of the 102nd Sweet Sixteen Wednesday night in Rupp Arena.

Here’s how the previous six undefeated teams fared in the state tournament:

1989 – Clay County (33-0), led by Russ Farmer, lost to Marshall County 64-60 in the first round. Dax Myhand and Dan Hall sparked the Marshals past Bobby Keith’s Tigers.

1982 – Mason County (30-0), coached by Allen Feldhaus Sr., beat Middlesboro 71-63 in the first round, then fell to Virgie and star Todd May 68-63 in the quarterfinals in front of a then-world record […]

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Reggie Warford’s Hall of Fame credentials go beyond basketball

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 27, 2019)

Remember Reggie Warford?

He was a basketball star at Drakesboro High in the early 1970s, a skinny, leaping left-hander who became the first recruit Joe B. Hall signed after Hall succeeded Adolph Rupp as Kentucky’s head coach. Warford helped the Cats win the National Invitational Tournament in 1976, and was the first African-American basketball player to graduate from UK.

“I guess no one wants to be forgotten,” Warford said in a phone interview from his home in Pittsburgh.

Warford has battled major health issues for the past 20 years, culminating with a heart transplant in 2014, and a kidney transplant in 2017. He has developed a pulmonary condition that restricts his breathing. The muscles around his diaphragm have atrophied. He’s on oxygen at night. He’s 64, wheelchair-bound, and courageously facing his mortality.

“I’m in my final stages here,” Warford said. “They’ve done everything they can do, and there’s nothing […]

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Rick Bolus: still scouting, still loving it, after all these years

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 20, 2019)

Rick Bolus estimates that he’s driven more than a half-a-million miles to scout more than 10,000 high school basketball games over the last 46 years. He’s in remarkably good health considering he’s consumed several thousand concession-stand hot dogs and boxes of popcorn along the way.

Shela Bolus, Rick’s wife, is into horses and loves trail riding. A few years ago her husband, on a rare occasion when he wasn’t sequestered in a gym somewhere, went riding with her.

“To make a long story short,” Bolus said, “I fell off the horse and broke my thumb and five ribs.

“That’s why I prefer basketball.”

Bolus has always preferred hoops over horses. Basketball has always been his passion.

He was a talented shooting guard for Male High School (Class of 1968), and his teammates included star Henry Bacon, who went on to have a solid college career at Louisville.

At Virginia […]

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Guy Strong’s remarkable life in sports: ‘I’ve done it all and seen it all.’

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 24, 2019)

WINCHESTER — The tapestry of Guy Strong’s life in sports, intricately woven over seven decades, is made up of his many accomplishments as a player and coach, and all the notable people he influenced and befriended along the way.

It’s difficult to quantify, and impossible to fully appreciate, everything Strong experienced from the time he was a star athlete at Irvine High School in the late 1940s to when he retired as basketball coach at George Rogers Clark in the early 2000s.

But the 88-year-old former coach and educator knows he had an exhilarating ride, most of which he was lucky enough to share with Aleen, his wife of 64 1/2 years before she passed away in 2016.

“Like I told one of my daughters, ‘When I go, I want you all to be happy because I’ve had a great life,’” Strong said in a recent interview. “I don’t want anybody […]

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Thanks to its defense, South Warren survives, beats CovCath

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 2, 2018)

When South Warren took a 20-0 lead on defending champion Covington Catholic early in the third quarter of Sunday’s Class 5A title game, Spartans’ quarterback Gavin Spurrier and his coach Brandon Smith had entirely different takes on the situation.

Spurrier said he thought he and his teammates “had it in cruise control” and were well on their way to a championship celebration. 

Smith felt differently. He thought the entire second half was slow torture, and admitted he felt like he has “going to have a stroke” when CovCath closed to within 20-14 and had a chance to tie it or take the lead in the closing minutes.

As it turned out, South Warren’s defense rewarded both the exuberant Spurrier and the apprehensive Smith by preserving a 20-16 victory on a windy afternoon at Kroger Field.

It was a wild and crazy finish.

CovCath, riding a 29-game winning streak that […]

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Dennis a real menace as Male wins 6A state title

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 2, 2018)

Male High School has been playing football for 125 years, and in that time it has won almost 900 games, had 9 undefeated seasons, and since the playoffs were instituted about 60 years ago, the Bulldogs have claimed 8 state titles.

Male has produced its share of big-name stars, including in the last 25 years a trio of Mr. Football winners (Michael Bush, Montrell Jones and Douglas Beaumont), and a pair of record-setting quarterbacks (Chris Redman and Gerry Ahrens) who led the Bulldogs to state championships.

But you would have a tough time convincing current Male Coach Chris Wolfe that any of those legendary players were any more valuable than Garrett Dennis, the senior quarterback who carried the Bulldogs to this year’s title.

Just as he has been all season, Dennis was the main man as Male mashed Scott County 37-20 in the Class 6A finals Friday night at […]

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Doug Preston’s winding journey to a dream destination

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 29, 2018)

Doug Preston has arrived at a special place in his football coaching career.

He’s at Franklin-Simpson, where he has guided the Wildcats to the state finals for the third year in a row, and his son Collin, a senior linebacker, has been along for the ride.

What makes Doug Preston’s story even more interesting is the winding road he took to reach this destination.

Over the last 27 years, he’s coached at 10 different high schools. The Bourbon County and EKU graduate has hopscotched across the Commonwealth, working the sidelines in Central Kentucky, Northeastern Kentucky, the Louisville area and now Western Kentucky.

“It really has been a journey,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve told guys getting into coaching, ‘Don’t take the Doug Preston route. Go someplace and stay for a long time.’

“When I was starting out, I thought I’d work my way up the ladder and go from […]

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In this football family, raising Cain means raising quarterbacks

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 20, 2018)

Wiley Cain believes he was destined to be a quarterback, that it’s in his DNA to play the most demanding position in football (and maybe in all of sports), and to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and father.

“I’ve had football in my veins since I was born,” he said, “and I’ve been a quarterback since I first picked up the ball.”

His granddad, John Wiley Cain, was a star high school quarterback for Cumberland in the early 1960s. His dad, John Wiley Cain II, was a star high school quarterback for Somerset in the late 1980s.

Wiley Robert Cain, a senior at Pulaski County, is a third-generation QB, but the football he plays is a whole ‘nother game.

When John Cain quarterbacked Cumberland almost 60 years ago, he didn’t pass much. “I don’t remember throwing it more than 10 times a game very often,” he said.

When […]

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William Warfield puts positive PrepSpin on high school sports

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 15, 2018)

It’s hard to believe there was a time when William Warfield didn’t know anything about computers, didn’t know about bytes or bandwidths, didn’t know the difference between algorithms and algae.

When he started working at RadioShack as a high school senior 22 years ago, Warfield remembers he was “afraid to sell a computer because I didn’t know anything about it. It was a foreign language to me.”

Today, Warfield has his own business and makes a nice living thanks to computers. And if you think he’s sequestered in a cubicle somewhere, pecking a keyboard and getting bleary-eyed, think again.

As the founder and operator of PrepSpin, Warfield occupies press boxes and press rows where, with his souped-up laptop, he live-streams more than 200 sporting events a year.

PrepSpin’s main focus is on high school sports.

“That’s my passion,” Warfield said. “I feel like my purpose is to help high school […]

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Paul Hornung’s winning senior year at Flaget

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Oct. 30, 2018)

Before he earned the nickname “Golden Boy,” before he won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame, before he was the first overall pick in the NFL draft, before he helped the Green Bay Packers win four NFL championships (including the first Super Bowl), before he was voted NFL MVP, before he was inducted into the college and pro football halls of fame, Paul Hornung was a multi-sport high school star in Louisville.

And to this day, Hornung is as proud of his days at Flaget as anything he accomplished in his remarkable sporting life.

“Absolutely. My memories of Flaget are still right up there,” the 82-year-old Hornung said in a recent telephone interview. “They rank as high in my mind as anything that ever happened to me.”

Hornung recalled his senior year of high school (1952-53) as being “really special.”

He quarterbacked Flaget’s football team to a 9-1-1 record, […]

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Walker Buehler: the pride of Ecton Park and Henry Clay

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Oct. 3, 2018)

Walker Buehler threw 6 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout baseball, and along the way collected his first RBI in the majors, to lead the Los Angeles Dodgers past the Colorado Rockies 5-2 on Monday and to their sixth consecutive National League West Division title.

The heartiest cheers for Buehler’s performance didn’t come from the sellout crowd at Chavez Ravine, though. They emanated from a home on Lakewood Drive right here in Lexington.

Karen Walker, Buehler’s mom, gathered in her living room with more than a dozen family members and friends to root for their favorite big leaguer as he keyed the Dodgers’ victory and drew rave reviews from the ESPN-TV commentators.

Karen Walker confessed she’s “typically incredibly nervous” when her son takes the mound, but she had a different feeling on Monday.

“Today I’ve got this weird, unusual peace about it,” she said during the early innings. “What has […]

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Jaggers’ family business: coaching high school football since 1963

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Sept. 6, 2018)

You could say the Jaggers’ family business is coaching high school football. It’s a business that’s been handed down from generation to generation to generation, a business that’s always been more about relationships than results, more about passion than a paycheck.

It took root in 1963 when Joe Jaggers began his coaching career as an assistant at Franklin-Simpson, then spread to different parts of Kentucky, with Joe heading programs at Old Kentucky Home, Nelson County, Trigg County, Fort Knox and North Hardin, winning five state titles along the way, and becoming the state’s all-time winningest coach before retiring in 1998.

Joe’s sons Marty and Crad followed in his footsteps, and between them coached from 1982 to 2014.

Marty’s son Josh is the fourth branch in the family tree of coaches. He’s been at LaRue County since 2008 and is in his fifth year as boss of the Hawks.

If you’re […]

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In his battle with cancer, Chris Hendrick finds refuge in baseball

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Chris Hendrick died Monday after battling cancer for three years. He was 28. I wrote about Chris’s brave fight when he was umpiring in the 2018 state baseball tournament. Condolences to his family. May they cherish the memories of Chris and his courage.

BY MIKE FIELDS (June 19, 2018)

While Chris Hendrick is undergoing chemotherapy today in Louisville, he will occupy his mind with happy thoughts of umpiring in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament the past two weekends in Lexington.

Hendrick, who has been battling cancer the past 21 months, finds refuge on the diamond.

“Any baseball game gives me a chance to feel normal,” he said after working Friday night’s semifinal game between Hazard and St. Xavier at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

“It’s my sacred place, my get-away-from-reality place. I don’t feel like I’m sick out there. All I have to do is worry about what’s going on between the lines, and that puts […]

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Hall of Famer Brian Brohm: Multi-sport athlete cover boy

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BY MIKE FIELDS (June 12, 2018)

When Brian Brohm was inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame a couple months ago, most people remembered him as a mega-star quarterback who led Trinity to three consecutive state football championships.

But he was much more than that.

Brohm was a multi-sport cover boy, an athlete for all seasons, whose last go-around at Trinity was nothing short of spectacular.

“My senior year was very important to me. I wanted to have the best year I could possibly have,” he said last week.  “And we pretty much did that. I definitely cherish all those memories.”

Brohm’s versatility earned him national notice. As a junior, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated (November, 2002) for a story titled “The Vanishing Three-Sport Athlete.”

As a senior, Brohm put an exclamation point on his high school sports career:

  •  In football, he quarterbacked Trinity to its three-peat by completing 22 of […]

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Al, Bobby, Jock & Nolan spin basketball memories

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BY MIKE FIELDS (June 6, 2018)

Jock Sutherland, an irrepressible raconteur, was telling one of his favorite stories, the one about when he was coaching basketball at Lafayette, and one night he ventured onto the court during a game, and the referee told him he was going to assess him a technical foul for every step he took getting back to the bench, so Jock had his players come out and pick him up, but before toting him back to the sidelines they paraded him around the gym while a pep band serenaded them, much to the delight of the fans, and much to the chagrin of the men in the striped shirts.

Sutherland has told this tale, most of which is true, probably 1,000 times. And his audience on this occasion had probably heard it 100 times before. But they still laughed for the 100th time.

Sutherland was having lunch last week with three […]

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‘Triple Threat’ Danville twins Jenna & Lara Akers ‘just like being Admirals’

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BY MIKE FIELDS (May 30, 2018)

DANVILLE – If the KHSAA is looking for somebody to promote its “Triple Threat Award”, which recognizes multi-sport athletes who compete in the fall, winter and spring, Jenna and Lara Akers would be perfect ambassadors.

The Danville High School identical twins just finished their freshman year, during which they were actually quadruple threats: they competed in soccer, basketball, swimming and tennis.

If that wasn’t enough, they plan on adding to their sports repertoire next school year by also running cross country and/or track.

“I don’t like sitting around,” Jenna said. “I do like my phone, but I can put it down for sports.”

Ditto for Lara: “We were home the last week and were bored to death. We didn’t know what to do. We like being busy.”

Their mom will attest to that.

“They’re super active and social,” Leann Akers said of the twins. “They’re just full of life, very […]

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Recalling Randy Wyatt’s sprint to glory for Paducah Tilghman

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BY MIKE FIELDS (May 17, 2018)

Lyman Brown still laughs when he recalls his first encounter with Randy Wyatt.

It was the spring of 1986 and Brown, who had coached Paducah Tilghman to seven consecutive state track and field championships (on his way to 11 in a row), was getting ready for another season.

“Bill Bond was the head track coach at Paducah Middle School and he said, ‘I’ve got this kid I think you can use,’” Brown recounted. “I said, ‘You mean an eighth-grader? Send him over and I’ll see if he can make our freshman relays.’”

A week or so later, when Brown was getting ready to hold time trials before the first meet of the season, he told Bond to send the eighth-grader over so he could take a look at him.

“Little did I know the kid was going to have to run from the middle school to the high […]

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The Mayer/Maile Magic Carpet Ride

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 25, 2018)

Amy Mayer is one happy sports mom/aunt these days, and she almost feels guilty about it.

Her and husband Andy’s sons AJ and Michael were integral players on Covington Catholic’s state championship football and basketball teams.

Her nephew Luke Maile (son of her brother Rich and wife Laurie) is playing some terrific baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays.

And her nephew Jack (Luke’s brother), a football and baseball standout at CovCath, led the Colonels to victory over arch-rival Highlands at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati over the weekend.

“It is all kind of unbelievable,” Amy said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Is this real? Somebody pinch me because I feel like I’m dreaming.’ It’s like we’re overwhelmed with goodness and blessings. It’s almost like a Disney movie.”

It began with CovCath’s Class 5A football title last fall. AJ starred at quarterback; Michael at defensive end/tight end, and Jack as […]

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RIP Bill Miller: A most genuine baseball man

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 24, 2018)

Bill Miller, the most genuine baseball man I ever met, passed away Monday. He was 68.

If there is an open acre in Heaven, Miller will turn it into a baseball diamond and be happy hitting fungoes for eternity.

Bill Miller was the baseball coach at Pleasure Ridge Park for nearly four decades, and in that time built the Panthers into the best high school program in Kentucky. 

They won six state championships — the first in 1994, the last in 2017 — because Miller was tough and demanding, and as gritty as infield dirt.

His 1,144 victories at PRP stand as a state record, and a tribute to sustained excellence.

I first got to know Miller in the early 1980s, before PRP was a baseball powerhouse. He was a proud PRP alum (Class of 1967), and had played catcher in baseball and fullback in football, so toughness was […]

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Shon Walker’s Hall of Fame game wasn’t just the long ball

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 17, 2018)

CYNTHIANA — Shon Walker still looks like he could step up to the plate and, with that sweet, smooth left-handed swing of his, send a baseball flying to the hinterlands.

Except . . . 

“I tore a ligament in my leg playing kickball at our company picnic,” he said with a laugh.

Walker confessed his injury — and his concession to age — on a recent spring evening at River Road Park where he was helping instruct his son Donovan’s Little League team in practice.

Walker, 43, played his last minor league baseball game 20 years ago, but he still feels drawn to the diamond.

“The fresh-cut grass, getting the chalk out, I love all of it,” he said.

Walker’s love for the game, his talent for playing it, and his remarkable accomplishments at Harrison County High School, will be recognized when he’s inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of […]

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Hall of Famer Angela Payne Starnes loves teaching as much as running

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 9, 2018)

Angela Payne Starnes will be retiring at the end of this school year, giving up her duties as an elementary school physical education teacher.

And her duties as a high school/middle school athletic director.

And her duties as a track & field coach.

And her duties as a cross country coach.

And her duties as a school bus driver.

With all the running she does to keep up with five jobs, it should come as no surprise that Starnes was a championship runner in her younger days.

As a high school track star at Todd County Central, Angela Payne won seven state titles.

As a sophomore in 1978, she was the 440-yard champ and part of the winning 4×100 relay.

As a junior she captured the 400-meter dash and another 4×100 victory.

As a senior she swept the 400, 200 and 100 sprints.

Payne’s winning time of :12.20 in […]

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CovCath celebrates another Sweet 16® title

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 18, 2018)

A few years ago C.J. Fredrick couldn’t even start for Covington Catholic’s freshman basketball team because, in his own words, he was “a skinny little stand-still shooter.”

Sunday afternoon under the bright lights in Rupp Arena, Fredrick was the star of the show as CovCath claimed its second state championship in five years.

The 6-foot-4 senior poured in 32 points as the Colonels swamped Scott County 73-55 to win the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16® in front of 12,637 fans.

CovCath, which also beat Scott County in the 2014 finals, is only the second private school to win more than one boys’ championship. St. Xavier is the other, having taken the title in 1926, ’35, ’58 and ’62.

“C.J.’s special; he’s got special talent,” Coach Scott Ruthsatz said. “If you want to write a book, C.J.’s the one to write about. He was the sixth or seventh man on our […]

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CovCath vs. Scott County for Sweet 16® title again

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BY MIKE FIELDS

For the second time in five years, Covington Catholic and Scott County will battle it out for the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16® championship.

They’ll face off Sunday at 2 p.m. in Rupp Arena.

CovCath (34-4) is riding a 22 game winning streak.

Scott County (37-1) has won 29 in a row. Its only loss was to Cincinnati Moeller.

When they clashed in the 2014 finals, CovCath rallied to beat the Cardinals 59-51 in overtime. Nick Ruthsatz, son of Colonels Coach Scott Ruthsatz, was MVP of the tournament. He had 25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in the title game.

“They’re really good,” Hicks said of this year’s CovCath team. “I think they’re better than they were in ’14. And they’ve still got a dad-burned Ruthsatz.”

That would be senior point guard Aiden Ruthsatz, Nick’s brother.

Hicks said CovCath’s size and strength will also present problems. The Colonels’ lineup includes […]

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It wasn’t a hero shot; it was a team being a team

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 16, 2018)

Hero?

Travis Henderson said no thanks to that label after he hit a three-pointer with :05 left to give Oldham County a 56-55 victory over Campbell County in the quarterfinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena Friday night.

Asked about the game-winning three that sent the Colonels to the state semifinals, Henderson deflected all personal glory. Instead, he sounded as if he was just lucky to be in the right spot at the right time and his shot just happened to go in.

“The play wasn’t necessarily designed for me,” he said. “I knew they’d be helping in hard, and that (ballhandler) Jackson (Gibson) would make the right call.”

Oldham County Coach Coy Zerhusen said Gibson was supposed to “attack the paint” and look for a shot, or pass to Zach Larimore rolling free, or Henderson getting open in the left corner.

“They collapsed down on […]

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Fern Creek’s Lenora Roberts keeps the book & keeps quiet

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 16, 2018)

As Fern Creek scrapped and clawed its way to a 69-67 overtime victory against Boyd County in the first round of the Sweet 16 Thursday afternoon in Rupp Arena, Lenora Roberts fidgeted in her seat, took a few deep breaths, but never made a peep.

She learned long ago to keep her emotions under wraps no matter what’s happening on the court. She’s been keeping the scorebook for Fern Creek basketball for 34 years, and no cheering is allowed in her job.

“I love it, but I have to keep quiet,” Lenora said with a laugh.

She has her daughter Kim to thank for that.

Kim was the eighth-grade basketball coach at Evangel Christian in Louisville when her younger sister Melissa was on the team. Lenora went to the opening game to root for her daughters, and, well, she must’ve made a little too much noise.

“After the very […]

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Rex Chapman remembers his Apollo heroes, and heartbreak

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 15, 2018)

When he was a basketball star at Apollo High School, UK and in the NBA, Rex Chapman was a hoops hero to thousands (millions?) of Kentucky kids.

But Rex remembers two of his own heroes when he was growing up, and one of them — Steve Barker — is coaching Apollo in the Sweet 16 this week.

Barker was an all-state player at Apollo 40 years ago when Wayne Chapman, Rex’s dad, was the Eagles’ coach.

Barker and Jeff Jones were four-year starters for Apollo, which reached the state tournament in 1976 and 1978.

“Steve and Jeff were two of my very first (heroes),” Rex said. “Steve could really shoot it, and Jeff was a really good player, too.”

The ’78 Apollo team took a 35-0 record and No. 1 ranking into the Sweet 16, but lost to Shelby County and its star Charles Hurt in the first round […]

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Brewers’ unbeaten Redmen have stood the test of time

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 15, 2018)

Barney Thweatt, who will be 88 in a few weeks, is still feisty as all get-out when it comes to reveling in the fact that he played on the last undefeated boys’ basketball team in Kentucky.

That was 70 years ago.

Thweatt started for Brewers (in Marshall County) when Coach McCoy Tarry’s Redmen went 36-0 and won the Sweet 16 in 1948.

“When it happened, we didn’t think much about it,” said Thweatt, who was in Rupp Arena last night when his Brewers team was recognized. “We thought, well, it might happen pretty often. But it hasn’t.”

Brewers, in fact, is the only boys’ team to own a spotless record since Ashland went 37-0 in 1928.

That means the Redmen are the lone undefeated state champs in the last 90 years.

Thweatt said he’s had a few scares, including Apollo’s […]

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Happy (or sad) Sweet 16® anniversary for Clem Haskins

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 15, 2018)

Happy anniversary, Clem Haskins.

Or maybe a not so happy anniversary.

It was 55 years ago today (March 15, 1963) that Haskins played his last high school game for Taylor County. He and his Cardinals lost to Lexington Dunbar 65-64 in the Sweet 16® quarterfinals in front of 17,000 fans in Freedom Hall.

“It was one of the saddest days of my life because it was the last time I put on that uniform,” Haskins said Thursday afternoon in Rupp Arena while he and his wife Yevette took in this year’s state tournament.

Haskins scored 25 points for Taylor County against Dunbar, but S.T. Roach’s Bearcats pulled out the victory in the closing minute.

“It was a great basketball game,” Haskins said. “And it was a great tournament for pure talent, Division I talent, NBA talent.”

The 1963 Sweet 16® had remarkable star power. Besides Haskins the roll call […]

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Pikeville’s never-say-die Panthers survive 3OT thriller

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 15, 2018)

This is the 101st Boys’ Sweet 16, which means there have been close to 1,500 state tournament games played over the last century.

I’d argue that none have been any better than Pikeville’s first-round, triple-overtime, heart-stopping 72-69 victory over John Hardin in Rupp Arena Wednesday night.

Pity those fans among the 10,233 in attendance who trickled out of Rupp Arena before it was over.

“That’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Panthers Coach Elisha Justice, who was the star of Shelby Valley’s run to the state title in 2010.

“You go three overtimes . . . I mean the amazing plays these guys made, they fought and never gave up.”

The underdog Panthers — some people rated them last in the 16-team field — showed incredible resiliency by coming up with clutch play after clutch play to stay alive.

First, there was Wyatt […]

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Travis Ford back in Rupp, scouting not shooting

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 14, 2018)

Travis Ford has accomplished a lot in his basketball career, as a player and a coach.

He was a deadly three-pointer shooter for Kentucky in the early 1990s. He’s coached at EKU, Massachusetts, Oklahoma State and St. Louis, winning more than 300 games and taking 8 teams to the NCAA Tournament.

But Ford still considers his high school days at Madisonville, when he helped the Maroons reach the Sweet 16 three years in a row, as a career highlight.

“It’s still one of the biggest deals, one of the greatest things, be it coaching or playing, that I enjoyed in basketball,” Ford said Wednesday afternoon as he took in the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena.

Ford, who just finished his second season at St. Louis, has a strong interest in this year’s state tournament. John Hardin star Mickey Pearson, who has signed with the Billikens, was […]

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‘Cool Hand’ Cooper saves Scott County

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 14, 2018)

Just call him “Cool Hand” Cooper.

Scott County senior guard Cooper Robb nailed a three-pointer from the left corner with :09 left to give his Cardinals a 54-53 lead over Trinity in the first round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 Wednesday afternoon in Rupp Arena.

Trinity called a timeout with :05.8, then got the ball to senior star Jay Scrubb, who made a a furious drive down the court, drew some contact, then missed an off-balance shove-shot from the left of the free-throw lane.

No whistle, and Scott County survived an epic opening-round game in this 101st state tournament in front of 15,271 fans.

Did Robb sweat those final few seconds as Scrubb scrambled down the floor?

“It seemed like a pretty long time,” he confessed.

Robb wasn’t supposed to get the ball for the decisive shot. It was supposed to go to teammate Michael Moreno, who had […]

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These 5 guys played in Sweet 16®, now coaching in it

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 14, 2018)

Steve Barker played for Apollo in the Sweet 16® in 1976 and 1978.

Barker, now 58, is in his fourth year coaching Apollo and has the Eagles in the state tournament for the first time since 2012.

Does it seem forever ago that he played in the Sweet 16®?

“It was forever ago,” Barker said with a laugh. “It’s been 40 years . . . 40 years!”

Barker would be in my starting lineup among coaches in this 101st Sweet Sixteen who also played in the state tournament.

He’d be joined by Corbin Coach Tony Pietrowski, Estill County Coach Jon Bentley, Oldham County Coach Coy Zerhusen and Pikeville Coach Elisha Justice.

— Steve Barker: started for Apollo in the 1976 and 1978 state tournaments. He had 21 points, 8 rebounds in a first-round loss to Shelby County in ’76, and 23 points, 7 rebounds in a first-round loss to […]

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Former Estill County star Brian Kiser revels in Engineers’ Sweet 16®

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 14, 2018)

As Estill County took the court for the school’s Sweet 16® debut today, one spectator in Section 217 in the upper deck of Rupp Arena was feeling especially proud of the Engineers.

Brian Kiser, an all-state player for Estill County in 1992, said he was ready to cheer on the Engineers and live vicariously through their special state tournament moment.

This was Estill County’s first trip to the state tournament since the school opened in 1940.

“Wow,” Kiser said. “We had on our practice jerseys ‘Road to Rupp’ back in ’92. That road’s been closed for 77 years for this school. But it’s open now.

“This is good for the community, just to see people rally around the team. There was a huge parade going through Irvine yesterday as the team was coming to Lexington to spend the night.

“For the community to have this experience . . . […]

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Scott County vs. Trinity reminiscent of past first-round showdowns

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 14, 2018)

As the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 gets ready to tip off at high noon, much ado is being made of today’s first-round matchup between Scott County and Trinity.

The hype is justified.

Scott County (34-1) and Trinity (30-3) are two of tournament favorites. They’re both loaded with talent, both are led by coaches who’ve won state championships. 

Billy Hicks led Scott County to titles in 1998 and 2007, and Mike Szabo guided the Shamrocks to the top on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012. (They beat Scott County in the finals.)

But this isn’t the first time the Sweet 16 has featured such a tantalizing first-round showdown.

Two of the best I remember:

— In 1978, No. 1 Apollo, sporting a 35-0 record, faced No. 2 Shelby County in front of 17,000 fans in Freedom Hall. Apollo, coached by Wayne Chapman, had a pair of four-year starters and Division […]

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Mercer County celebrates back-to-back state titles

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 11, 2018)

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Oh, to have been in the Mercer County locker room at halftime of the girls’ state basketball finals at NKU’s BB&T Arena on Sunday afternoon when the defending champion Titans led Mercy by the unfathomable score of 52-14.

Instead of getting a lecture and X’s and O’s strategy from Coach Chris Souder, the Titans were surely high-fiving, giggling and figuring out who would get to kiss the championship trophy first.

“We were laughing,” Souder admitted.

“It was crazy,” said senior leader Seygan Robins. “We were celebrating a lot at halftime.”

With a mercy-rule running clock in effect the rest of the way, Mercer County wound up winning 74-34 and putting an exclamation point on its back-to-back championships.

The Titans claimed this St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet 16 title in record-setting style, too, by hitting 16 three-pointers, breaking their own state tournament mark of 14 that they made […]

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Mercer County must hurdle Mercy to repeat as state champ

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 10, 2018)

Mercer County’s girls have played 144 basketball games over the last four seasons and won 125 of them, including four consecutive region titles and a state championship.

And yet the Titans can still impress their coach by raising their game to another level.

That was the case in the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet 16 semifinals Saturday night in NKU’s BB&T Arena.

Mercer County, which rarely plays a zone, used one to completely stifle Clark County on its way to a 44-27 victory.

The Cardinals managed just 2 points in the first 10 minutes, and they trailed 22-9 at halftime. They finished the night shooting 28.6%, including 1-for-12 from three-point range.

“I told the girls that probably since they’ve been in high school that’s the best defensive performance we’ve had,” Mercer County Coach Chris Souder said.

“For some reason we haven’t been able to guard a trash can here lately, […]

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RIP, Gene Rhodes, who won state titles as player and coach

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Gene Rhodes, who coached Louisville St. Xavier to the Sweet 16 title 60 years ago, died early Friday morning. He was 90. This is the story of his 1958 champs.

BY BILLY REED (March 10, 2018)

They were a team without a home because the old gym at St. Xavier High School, then located at 118 West Broadway, had a running track above the court, making shots from the corner impossible. So Gene Rhodes, the driven young coach with the perpetual 5 o’clock shadow, scheduled “home” games at Male, Central, Gottschalk Junior, and other schools that had normal gyms.

Rhodes wasn’t about to have his team practice at home, either, but since the other schools in Louisville were practicing in their home gyms, he decreed that the Tigers would practice at night, in a gym that wasn’t being used, sometimes as late as 7 to 9 p.m. The only starter who had a car was […]

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Nicholas County’s run to glory 25 years ago

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 9, 2018)

Kim Denkins is a social worker at a nursing home in Nicholas County, and more than occasionally she’ll be reminded of her basketball celebrity.

“It’s funny. Like when I’m doing orientation, somebody will say, ‘Are you Kim Denkins?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yes, I used to play ball.’”

Denkins’ modesty keeps her from telling folks she did much more than just “play ball.”

Twenty-five years ago she was the shining star on a high school basketball team that brought unprecedented glory to Nicholas County, and a sense of community pride that endures to this day.

Barbara Kenney, who guided the Bluejackets to the All “A” state title and the Sweet Sixteen championship in 1993, still cherishes the memories of those girls who proved that a small school could make big dreams come true.

 “It was quite a feat,” she said, “but we knew we had something special.”

Kenney and several […]

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Girls’ Sweet 16 champs by regions since 1975®

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GIRLS’ SWEET SIXTEEN® CHAMPS BY REGIONS (SINCE 1975)

1st Region:  Marshall County (1982, 1984)

2nd Region: Union County (1996)

3rd Region:  None

4th Region:  Warren Central (1983)

5th Region:  Elizabethtown (1998); Marion County (2013)

6th Region:  Butler (1975, 1980, 2008, 2014, 2016); Southern (1988); Iroquois (2009)

7th Region:  Sacred Heart (1976, 2002, 2003, 2004); Mercy* (1992, 2010); Manual (2012)

8th Region:  Oldham County (1986); Scott County* (1995)

9th Region:  Covington Holy Cross (2015)

10th Region: Nicholas County (1993)

11th Region: Lexington Catholic (1999, 2001, 2005, 2006); Henry Clay (1990); Lexington Christian (2007)

12th Region: Laurel County (1977, 1978, 1979, 1987, 1991); Pulaski County (1981); Rockcastle County (2011); Mercer County (2017)

13th Region: Whitley County (1985); Clay County (1989)

14th Region: M.C. Napier (1994); Hazard (1997)

15th Region: None

16th Region: West Carter (2000)

*Mercy moved to the 6th Region before the 2011-12 season 

*Scott County moved to […]

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Bunny Daugherty, Donna Moir & the spirit of Sacred Heart

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 26, 2018)

LOUISVILLE – A trailblazer and advocate for girls’ high school sports. Decades of dedication as an athletic director and coach. More than a dozen state championships to her credit. KHSAA Hall of Famer.

Bunny Daugherty’s legacy at Sacred Heart Academy endures strongly to this day, 20 years after she passed away on February 26, 1998.

“With her love of sports, she made a connection with everybody,” said Donna Moir, the Valkyries’ current basketball coach and AD.

Daugherty, whose motto was “Kids + Sports = Fun”, coached just about everything at Sacred Heart and she guided teams to 13 state titles — golf (5), tennis (5), field hockey (2), basketball (1).

Intent on creating opportunities for young female athletes, Daugherty was instrumental in starting the girls’ Louisville Invitational Tournament in basketball and the Apple Invitational Tournament in field hockey almost 50 years ago.

The Courier-Journal called her the Susan B. Anthony of […]

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As coach or mayor, Bill Mike Runyon has Paintsville at heart

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 7, 2018)

PAINTSVILLE — Paintsville Mayor Bill Mike Runyon was sitting behind his desk at city hall — which is across the corner from where as a kid he’d set up his shoe-shine kit on Saturdays, and just down the street from Paintsville High School where he played, coached and taught for four decades — and he was talking about what his hometown means to him.

“Paintsville is Bill Mike Runyon’s life,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “I don’t think people realize that no matter what small community you’re from, it’s the people within that community when you were growing up — your parents, your uncles, your aunts, your teachers, your coaches, your friends — those are the people that kicked you in the butt and got you going in the right direction.

“Well, that’s what Paintsville did for me. And now that I’m sitting in this chair, I want […]

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‘Moose’ Moore’s memories of the first All ‘A’ Classic

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 25, 2018)

When Stan Steidel pushed to expand the All “A” Classic into a state-wide basketball tournament almost 30 years ago, Owsley County and Jeff “Moose” Moore were just the kind of small-school team and player Steidel had in mind.

“That was the purpose,” Steidel said this week when the 2018 All “A” tipped off in EKU’s McBrayer Arena in Richmond. “It never was for any other reason but to let small schools play in a state-wide tournament.”

Owsley County had never made it to the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen, and Moore had never had the chance to show off his considerable hoops skills under the bright lights on a big stage.

Steidel’s vision became a reality in February, 1990, when the first All “A” state tournament was played in UK’s Memorial Coliseum, and Owsley County, led by Moore, reaped memories for a lifetime.

Coach Larry Sparks’ Owls became the crowd favorite […]

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Billy Miller’s strange 90-point night in Nancy

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 17, 2018)

Forty-two years ago this week, Billy Miller had 90 points in a high school basketball game, a scoring performance that still ranks second in the KHSAA record book, a scoring performance that, to some extent, he still regrets.

“If I had it to do over again,” Miller said last week, “I probably would’ve went and sat down and finished with around 70 points. That’s what I would’ve preferred to do, because the way things turned out, a lot of people thought the game was a farce.”

January 16, 1976, was, by all accounts, a strange night of hoops in Nancy, Ky.

Miller, a 6-foot-5 senior, led Nancy to a 145-70 rout of Pine Knot in a game that didn’t really go completely sideways until the closing minutes.

According to accounts in the Lexington Herald and Louisville Courier-Journal, Nancy Coach Avery Hatfield (now deceased) let Miller stay on the court […]

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High school hoops’ love affair with 3-pointer celebrates 30th anniversary

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 9, 2018)

The big news broke the fourth week of March, 1987, during the 70th Boys’ Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena:

The National Federation of State High School Associations announced that the three-point shot part would be part of high school basketball for the 1987-88 season.

College basketball had already adopted the three-pointer for the 1986-87 season, and underdog Providence, coached by Rick Pitino and led by sharpshooter Billy Donovan, weaponized it so well it reached the NCAA Final Four.

It was no surprise that the high school game wanted to share in the “bombs away” excitement generated by the 19-foot, 9-inch stripe.

Thirty years later, it’s hard to imagine high school hoops without the three-pointer.

Just about everybody agrees it’s been a positive change for the game by giving outside shooters as much influence as inside dominators.

“Before we had the three, the game was usually a slugfest, and the […]

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Remembering Joey Couch, the basketball player

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 16, 2017)

Joey Couch, who passed away at home Friday night at the age of 49, was known to most people for his football playing days at the University of Kentucky, where he earned All-SEC honors.

But I remember Joey Couch better for his basketball playing days at Paintsville High School.

He did help Paintsville football, coached by Walter Brugh, to a Class A runner-up finish to Crittenden County in 1985.

But Couch got more state-wide exposure in hoops as a major contributor for the basketball Tigers, who played in the Sweet Sixteen in 1985, ’86 and ’87.

Over those three years, Couch averaged a double-double — 13.2 points and 10.2 rebounds — in Paintsville’s six state tournament games in Rupp Arena. 

John Pelphrey got most of the headlines for those Bill Mike Runyon Tigers. Pelphrey was named Mr. Basketball after his senior season and went on to be part of […]

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Christmas will have a championship ring to it for the Hellyers

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 8, 2017)

The Brothers Hellyer of Boyle County will have a big time talking smack and patting each other on the back when their family gathers for Christmas in a couple weeks.

And the youngest of the Hellyer boys, Clete, will no doubt be in the middle of it all now that he’s joined his brothers’ championship club.

When Boyle County beat Corbin in the Class 3A football finals last week, it capped an incredible run of eight (!) state titles for the Hellyer family.

Clay Hellyer, a wide receiver/defensive back, was part of Chuck Smith’s championship teams in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Cole Hellyer, an offensive lineman, helped Larry French’s Rebels win titles as a junior and senior in 2009 and 2010.  

Clint Hellyer, a wide receiver/defensive back, was a freshman and sophomore on those same championship teams.

Clete Hellyer, a defensive lineman/linebacker, finally got his turn to celebrate […]

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Winning football titles is a family tradition at Danville

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 2, 2017)

Winning football is a family tradition spanning generations at Danville High School, and the Admirals’ family is celebrating another championship today.

Danville won its 11th state title by beating familiar foe Mayfield 35-21 in the Class 2A finals Saturday afternoon in front of 7,398 fans at Kroger Field.

Thirty years ago, the Admirals beat Mayfield 24-23 in overtime in the 2A title game. David Walker was one of Danville’s heroes, scoring a TD in the extra period, then blocking Mayfield’s extra-point kick to seal that victory. 

Saturday afternoon, David Walker’s son, also named David, helped the Admirals beat Mayfield in the finals again. He was Danville’s second-leading receiver and second-leading tackler in helping secure the school’s first state title since 2003.

“My dad just always believed in me, that I’d come to a state championship and win one,” Walker said. “It’s good to fulfill that legacy. He told me […]

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Boyle County & Chuck Smith a championship combo

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 1, 2017)

Reese Smith, one of the brightest stars in Boyle County’s 40-21 victory over Corbin in the Class 3A football finals Friday night, is no relation to Rebels’ coach Chuck Smith.

But the sophomore wide receiver/free safety, who accounted for four touchdowns in Boyle County’s rousing win in front of 11,234 at UK’s Kroger Field, has known his coach for a long time.

“When I was a little kid, maybe when I was in the fourth grade, he was coaching here at UK and I’d come up here to (football) camps,” Reese said. “I’d wear a Boyle County shirt and he got to know who I was. So when he came back to Boyle County, it was kind of cool because he knew I was, and I knew that he’d won five state titles in a row there, and I knew he’d get us back on track.”

Reese Smith wasn’t […]

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Reflections on Bourbon County’s championship season, 20 years later

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 29, 2017)

When Bourbon County captured the Class 2A title in 1997, it was regarded as one of the most improbable football championships in state history. The Colonels hadn’t had a winning record in a decade, and had NEVER won a playoff game before Dudley Hilton took over as their coach in mid-summer 20 years ago.

Bourbon County posted a 7-3 record in the regular season before embarking on a remarkable run through the post-season. After slipping by Somerset 15-12 in the first round of the playoffs, the Colonels registered consecutive shutouts against Boyle County (24-0), Lexington Catholic (20-0) and Lawrence County (14-0). They capped things off by beating Owensboro Catholic 39-28 in the finals on a bitter-cold night at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium.

Two decades later, I was curious to hear some of the key players on that Bourbon County team reminisce about their championship season.

They were teenagers then. They’re in […]

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Record-setting QB Bill Allen ‘amazed’ at numbers that passed him by

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 10, 2017)

When Bill Allen happened upon the lists of state football records on the KHSAA web site recently, he was stunned by some of the numbers he saw.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. “Some of the stats were just amazing.”

Allen was particularly interested in the passing records.

After all, he was the Courier-Journal’s first-team All-State quarterback in 1983, and finished his career at Morgan County as the state’s all-time leader in passing yards (6,440). He also ranked near the top in completions (443), attempts (800) and touchdown passes (42).

But 34 years later, Allen’s numbers have been left in the dust.

Kentucky high school football became a high-flying passing game for a lot of teams in the 1990s, and it’s been airborne ever since.

Allen thinks the change happened in large part because UK coach Hal Mumme unleashed his Air Raid offense, and Leslie County […]

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Allen Feldhaus Sr.’s wonderful basketball life

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Nov. 2, 2017)

Allen Feldhaus Sr., who died Saturday at age 77, had a wonderful basketball life.

The Boone County native played for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky.

He coached the high school game at Russell County and Mason County, and guided the Royals to four 10th Region titles, and a Sweet Sixteen runner-up in 1981.

He coached his three sons – Allen Jr., Willie and Deron –  and all three got to play for Mason County in the state tournament under the bright lights in Rupp Arena.

Allen Jr. and Willie followed in their dad’s footsteps into coaching.

In his 20th season at Madison Central, Allen Jr. led the Indians to the state championship in 2013. (Allen Sr. and Allen Jr. are the only father and son to serve as head coach in the KHSAA state finals.)

Willie first coached at Pendleton County before assisting his brother at Madison Central for 11 years. From there he returned to […]

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RIP, Daniel Webb — Heath baseball star; major leaguer

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Oct. 16, 2017)

It was sad to hear that Daniel Webb, a star pitcher at Heath High School who went on to play in the major leagues, died over the weekend from injuries sustained in an ATV accident in Tennessee. He was 28.

Webb pitched in relief for the Chicago White Sox from 2013-16, registering a 7-5 record, appearing in 94 games and posting a 4.50 ERA in 110 innings. He had Tommy John surgery in 2016 and was released after the season.

I remember Webb for his gutsy performance for Heath in the 2007 KHSAA State Tournament at Applebee’s Park (now Whitaker Bank Ballpark) in Lexington.

A hard-throwing right-hander, Webb injured his foot in the first inning of Heath’s quarterfinal game against Apollo. He played through the pain, however, and wound up pitching a complete game, racking up 10 strikeouts. He also drove in Heath’s only run with a sacrifice fly, but Apollo eked out […]

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Justin Thomas’ elite company includes Hornung, Unseld, Cowens

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Oct. 6, 2017)

Justin Thomas was the best golfer on the planet this past season. He won 5 times, including his first major title (PGA Championship), led the money list with nearly $10 million (not counting the $10 million bonus that came with winning the Fed Ex Cup), and the St. Xavier graduate was named PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Not many Kentucky high school athletes go on to be crowned the best in their sport on the professional level. Thomas is in pretty exclusive company that includes:

  • Paul Hornung, a multi-sport star at Flaget in the early 1950s, won NFL MVP honors in 1961 and led the Green Bay Packers to the NFL championship. (Hornung also won the Heisman Trophy as a college standout at Notre Dame.)
  • Wes Unseld, who led Seneca to the Sweet Sixteen title in 1963 and 1964, was named NBA MVP (and Rookie of the […]

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Bob White: A good guy gets a lift through a bad time

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BY MIKE FIELDS (Sept. 28, 2017)

LOUISVILLE – Bob White, like any newspaper reporter worth his salt, loved covering events that had dramatic twists or heartwarming endings. He delighted in being surprised by what he was chronicling during his half-century career as a sportswriter for the Courier-Journal.

In the past year, White has experienced that emotional ebb-and-flow storyline himself.

The dramatic twist came when he was victimized by identity theft and left in financial ruin. “I lost everything. I had zero in the bank,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

But family, colleagues and friends came together to write a heartwarming ending to White’s story that left him overwhelmed with appreciation.

“It’s been unbelievable how people have helped me out,” White said.

Last winter, John Osborne, White’s brother-in-law, helped set up a GoFundMe account for him on the Internet. Contributions, ranging from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars, came in from across the state and totaled nearly […]

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Tom Larkey ready to join football’s 300-victory club

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“It’s a story most people couldn’t tell – my football, my family.”

— Tom Larkey

BY MIKE FIELDS (Sept. 7, 2017)

If Perry County Central beats Clay County Friday night, Tom Larkey will become the 10th high school football coach in Kentucky history to win 300 games.

One reason Larkey is on the cusp of that milestone is that he’s a tough ol’ cuss. He’s proven that time and again in his 37 years as a head coach:

  • In 2001, when he had Rockcastle County among the state’s elite, Larkey underwent prostate surgery early in the season. Less than a week later, when the Rockets played at Estill County, he couldn’t be on the sidelines, but he watched the game with his wife from their car on a nearby hill. That didn’t keep him from hollering suggestions to his son (and assistant coach) Chris, who was calling plays. “He’s nuts!” Chris said, laughing as he recalled that night […]

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Sam Simpson’s long tenure at Henry Clay comes to an end

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Sam Simpson is retiring as Henry Clay football coach after 27 years at the helm.

He led the Blue Devils to a Class 4A state runner-up finish in 1995, and with 193 victories he is the school’s all-time winningest football coach.

“I guess everybody knows when it’s time,” Simpson said. “It’s been heavy on my mind the last week or so, and when you think about something this much, it must be time.”

Henry Clay’s 0-11 record this season didn’t make his decision any easier.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tough year because it was,” Simpson said. “There was part of me that wanted to come back and right this ship. Then part of me realized I’ve had a great experience and have a lot of wonderful memories.

“I’ve coached with a lot of great people, coached a lot of great kids, and I was proud to be at a school […]

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PRP reigns again as king of Kentucky baseball under Bill Miller

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BY MIKE FIELDS (June 17, 2017)

Thirty-five years ago Bill Miller coached Pleasure Ridge Park to a runner-up finish in the state baseball tournament. The Panthers lost to unbeaten Madison Central in the finals.

In 1985 PRP made it back to the title game but lost to Owensboro Catholic.

In 1993 the Panthers were one win away from a state championship again before falling to Harrison County.

That may have been three strikes against PRP, but Miller never lost faith that his program would someday break through and hit it big. In fact, he remembers telling people, “Once we win one, we’ll win a bunch.”

Miller’s not only a great coach, he’s a great prophet.

PRP won three consecutive state championships starting in 1994; the Panthers took home the big trophy again in 2008 and 2013; and on Saturday they claimed yet another state title by beating Simon Kenton 6-5 at […]

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High school baseball has changed a lot in 50 years. Just ask Bobby Lynch

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BY MIKE FIELDS (June 15, 2017)

Ashland’s 1967 state baseball champions were recognized during Saturday’s state finals at Whitaker Bank Ballpark to mark the 50th anniversary of their title.

Bobby Lynch, who was a standout pitcher on the Tomcat teams that won three consecutive championships (1966, ’67, ’68), was there with a few of his former teammates.

High school baseball is a whole ‘nother sport now than it was when Ashland beat Fort Knox 7-2 to win the state title at UK’s Shively Field 50 years ago this week.

The bases are still 90 feet apart; the pitching rubber is still 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate; it’s still three strikes and you’re out; but some of the rules and trappings of the high school game have changed considerably.

Well aware that we sounded like a couple of curmudgeons, Lynch and I discussed some of the differences between the game played in the ’60s and […]

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Heflin’s success as tennis coach a net result of caring about kids

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BY MIKE FIELDS (May 8, 2017)

Just as Land Between the Lakes is wonder of nature in Western Kentucky, Larry Heflin is a force of nature when it comes to high school tennis in that part of the state.

Thanks to his competitive fire, coaching acumen and dedication to young people, Heflin built Lone Oak’s program from nothing into a powerhouse, and in the process made the Paducah area a hotbed for high school tennis.

After the KHSAA added team competition to the state tournament in 1982, Louisville and Lexington teams combined to win 19 of the first 20 titles for boys and girls. (Henderson County’s boys were the exception in 1984.)

But when Lone Oak’s girls broke through to capture the 1992 championship, it signaled the start of a dynasty. The Purple Flash girls won five consecutive state titles, and 11 in 21 years.

When Lone Oak consolidated with Heath and Reidland to form McCracken County in 2013, Heflin took the reins of the Mustangs. The winning continued. McCracken County’s […]

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Remembering Brent Arnold

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BY MIKE FIELDS (May 3, 2017)

Brent Arnold, who coached multiple sports at Lafayette for many years, died this weekend after a short battle with cancer. He was 72.

Arnold was an assistant girls’ basketball coach at Lafayette under Kathy Neal when the Lea Wise-led Generals were state runners-up in 1979.

Arnold took over as the Lafayette girls’ head coach in 1981 and guided them to the Sweet 16 in 1984. He had an overall record of 119-58 in seven years.

Arnold moved over to boys’ basketball and served as an assistant under Donnie Harville, and after leaving the bench kept the scorebook for the Generals.

He also coached cross-country and girls’ track at Lafayette.

Former Lafayette athletics director Karen Vanover, who retired the same year (2000) as Arnold, remembers that Arnold “tried to come off as pretty gruff, but he was really a pushover. He was a very kind, caring and giving person.”

Arnold always kidded […]

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Gabby Karas: 12 state titles and a champion’s spirit

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BY MIKE FIELDS (May 1, 2017)

SHELBYVILLE — Flashback to May 23, 2014, and the KHSAA Track and Field Championships.

Collins’ freshman Gabby Karas, who won the 800- and 1,600-meter races with record-setting times earlier in the day, finishes the afternoon by adding the 3,200 title to her haul. 

Karas remembers what happened next: “Everybody in the whole stadium (at UK) got quiet; everyone was waiting. And then the announcer announced I’d broken the 3,200 record, too. Everybody started screaming, and I started crying. It was crazy. It was like a magical movie moment I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have.”

The high a runner gets from an endorphin rush may be exhilarating, but it can’t match the high a runner gets from a victory rush.

Karas knows the feeling, a dozen times over. She won 12 state titles — 8 in track and 4 in cross country — in her high school career. 

The last of those championships came […]

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Danville’s Paul Morse still tops in baseball record book

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 20, 2017)

DANVILLE – It’s been 25 years since Paul Morse smacked his last home run, struck out his last batter and chalked up his last pitching victory for Danville High School.

Still, over the last quarter-century, nobody in the state has been able to match the career numbers posted by the former Admirals’ baseball star.

Morse still ranks No. 1 in the KHSAA record book for his prowess as a hitter (65 homers) and as a pitcher (55 wins, 651 strikeouts). He’s also tied for second place in RBI (253).

“I didn’t used to think much about it,” Morse said earlier this week. “But now that I’m getting older, I look at those numbers I put up and I’m kind of like, ‘Wow!’ It was all a little more than I thought it was.”

Morse was an accomplished multi-sport athlete at Danville.

He was a five-year starter in baseball.  As an eighth-grader he was the […]

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Harrison County baseball’s unimaginable loss

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BY MIKE FIELDS (April 4, 2017)

CYNTHIANA — A few weeks into the high school baseball season, Harrison County has not lost a game.

But the Thorobreds don’t feel like an undefeated team.

They feel like a team that has suffered an unimaginable loss — the loss of a teammate.

Harrison County senior Brett Persinger, who had started at shortstop for the Thorobreds since he was a seventh-grader, was killed in a car accident last November. Max Ogden, another teammate, was seriously injured.

Mac Whitaker has experienced plenty of good times and bad times in 40 years as Harrison County’s baseball coach, but nothing prepared him for the tragedy that struck his team the day before Thanksgiving last fall. 

Brett Persinger grew up in the Thorobreds’ program. When he was 10, he was shagging fly balls and winning over everybody with his engaging personality. His dad, Rodney, was an assistant coach.

“Knowing Brett’s family so well, and having known him […]

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60 years ago: UK baseball, Stoll Field, Jim Host

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Flipping through microfiche files of old newspapers is endlessly entertaining. Some story or photo always catches your eye, like the sports page (above) from the Lexington Herald 60 years ago today. It was about UK baseball. I didn’t know Harry Lancaster, Adolph Rupp’s basketball assistant, coached baseball, or that the baseball team played at Stoll Field, or that John Crigler and Jim Host were baseball teammates, or that left-handers were called port-siders . . . 

Excerpted from March 29, 1957, Lexington Herald story:

Southeastern Conference defending champion Florida meets the 1956 cellar-dwelling Kentucky Wildcats on Stoll Field this afternoon at 3 o’clock in a season-opening baseball encounter expected to find the league rivals on much evener terms than a year ago when the Gators swept three contests on their home grounds by lopsided scores.

For the first of a three-game series, which finds a double-header on tap Saturday at 1 p.m., Coach Harry Lancaster of the Wildcats […]

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Bowling Green basketball begins Purple reign

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 19, 2017)

D.G. Sherrill never got to attend the Sweet 16 when he was a kid growing up in Caldwell County in far western Kentucky.

“My daddy believed when my basketball season was over, it was time for me to go to work,” he said. “So I was in a welding shop when everybody else was coming to watch basketball.”

Sherrill’s first trip to watch the state tournament was in 1992 at Freedom Hall, when he was starting his coaching career as an assistant to Terry Hayes at Dawson Springs.

He remembered his less-than-luxurious accommodations in Louisville.

“(Hayes) stayed at the Hyatt, and I was out in some motor inn. I think they gave us tickets and money, but he didn’t share of that with me,” Sherrill said with a laugh.

Sherrill was in a jovial, sentimental mood Sunday afternoon as he reminisced about his early days in coaching.

He had the best […]

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Jake Ohmer’s legacy a winning one

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 18, 2017)

When the KHSAA celebrates its 125th Sweet 16 in 2042, you can bet there will be high school basketball fans reminiscing about how a kid named Jake Ohmer made a name for himself in the 100th state tournament.

They’ll talk about how he was a scoring machine, and a surprisingly strong rebounder; how he flew up and down the Rupp Arena court with controlled abandon, how he made Scott – not Scott County – the talk of the town that week, and how he almost got his underdog team to the state finals.

Jake Ohmer’s storybook post-season ended Saturday night in the cruelest of ways. He missed a shot in the closing seconds that would have given Scott a stunning upset of heavily favored Bowling Green. The Purples escaped 80-79, and their Coach D.G. Sherrill said they were lucky to do so.

That’s because Sherrill knew as well as anyone […]

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Sweet 16’s top scorers in back-to-back games

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 17, 2017)

Scott senior guard Jake Ohmer has put on a scoring show in his first two games in the 100th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 this week. 

Ohmer created a buzz in Rupp Arena by pouring in 41 points in Scott’s first-round victory over Harlan County, and following it up with 32 in a quarterfinal win over Perry County Central.

That gives Ohmer 73 points in back-to-back games in the state tournament.

Is that a record?

It’s not even close.

“King” Kelly Coleman of Wayland set the standard with a two-game total of 96 points in 1956. He had 28 points in a semifinal loss to Carr Creek, then came back that night with 68 against Bell County in the consolation game. 

Coleman totaled 89 points in the first two rounds of the ’56 tournament. He had 50 in Wayland’s opener against Shelbyville and 39 in the Wasps’ quarterfinals against Earlington.

Coleman came into the […]

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Purples’ power: talent with experience

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 17, 2017)

Bowling Green took out No. 1 Scott County 68-53 in the quarterfinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Friday afternoon.

“That was the best basketball team we’ve played all year, bar none,” Purples Coach D.G. Sherrill said after his team posted its 27th consecutive victory.

Bowling Green played like Rupp Arena was its home floor, which is understandable.

For talented seniors Terry Taylor and DeAngelo Wilson, this was their eighth state tournament game in the last three years, and Kyran Jones’ seventh.

Bowling Green lost to Owensboro in the 2015 finals and to eventual champion Paul Laurence Dunbar in last year’s quarterfinals.

Taylor, a fluid 6-foot-6 swingman, had 20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals against Scott County. He now has 128 points and 65 rebounds in Rupp.

Wilson, a mercurial 5-10 guard, had 20 points, 5 steals and 3 rebounds. He now has 95 points in […]

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Bobby Keith’s Sweet 16 legacy

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 17, 2017)

The 100th Sweet 16 celebration this week in Rupp Arena is missing one of the most important figures in Kentucky high school basketball history.

Legendary Clay County Coach Bobby Keith died last fall, leaving all those who knew him with heartache. He was a remarkable coach and remarkable man.

Keith is best known for guiding Clay County to the 1987 state championship, and runner-up finishes in 1985 and ’88.

But his personal Sweet 16 experience went back 60 years.

Keith was in the lineup for Clay County when the Tigers played Hazard in the first round of the 1957 Sweet 16 in Freedom Hall. That was the first KHSAA-sponsored state tournament after integration, and Hazard’s Bob Baker, Don Smith and Linville Wright became the first black players to play in the Sweet 16.

Keith didn’t score in the 50-47 loss to Hazard, but he was honored to have been part of […]

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Collins basketball now has stories to tell

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 16, 2017)

Collins’ basketball program’s seven-year itch to win a game in the state tournament finally got scratched.

The Titans pulled away in overtime to beat Elliott County 65-57 in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena Thursday night.

It was the first state tournament victory for Collins, which was created when Shelby County was split in two high schools in 2010. The Titans also won the 8th Region in 2015, but lost their Sweet Sixteen opener to eventual state champ Owensboro.

Collins dodged a bullet — or more accurately, it got in the way of a charging Lion — in Thursday night’s win over Elliott County.

After the Titans’ Dominique Turner hit two free throws with :08.5 left, the Lions’ Korbin Spencer went the length of the court and attacked the rim. But Charlie Cochran was there to take a charge.

Collins scored the first seven points in OT and was on […]

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The ‘Worm’ turned in most dynamic dunk in Sweet 16

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 16, 2017)

Perry County Central’s Damon Tobler had an impressive dunk during the Commodores’ win over Pikeville in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 on Wednesday. It was just for show, though, because the slam was erased when Tobler was whistled for a foul on the play.

Even if it had counted, however, it wouldn’t have come close to matching the most dynamic and most important state tournament dunk I can remember.

Warren Central’s Lonnell “Worm” Dewalt had the jam of all jams in the 2004 title game against defending champion Mason County.

In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, Warren Central was clinging to a 58-54 lead when Dewalt had a rebound slam off a miss by Matt Maresca to push the margin to 60-54.

But that wasn’t the Dewalt dunk that brought down the house.

On the Dragons’ next possession, Brock Whitney missed a three-pointer and . . .

Let’s let Tim Riley, […]

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Oh, my, Ohmer goes for 41 points, 17 rebounds

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 15, 2017)

Jake Ohmer was Mr. Low Key after going for 41 points, 17 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists in Scott’s 77-65 victory over Harlan County in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Tuesday night.

It was the highest scoring performance in the state tournament since Elizabethtown’s Antwain Barbour had 42 against Russellville in 2000.

Asked how it felt to be Jake Ohmer after his star turn in Rupp Arena, the 5-foot-9 senior guard deflected the glory.

“It feels good, but I’m more glad about how our team played together and how we came out and got the win,” he said.

Coach Steve Fromeyer was quick to point out that his Eagles aren’t “Jake Ohmer and the four misfits. We have good pieces around him.”

Ohmer has a team-first attitude, too. But he’s also used to being the media darling this post-season.

The University of the Cumberlands’ commit has 145 points in Scott’s last four […]

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After 60 years, Luther Blanton has ‘Sweet’ experience

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BY MIKE FIELDS (March 15, 2017)

Luther Blanton had a front-row seat in Rupp Arena Wednesday night, right there on the sidelines at the end of the Harlan County bench for the Black Bears’ game against Scott in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16.

“I’ve been waiting 60 years for this,” Blanton said. “I didn’t know if it’d ever come.”

When he was a freshman at Wallins High School in Harlan County in 1957, Blanton started keeping the basketball scorebook for the Purple Devils.

In 1966, Black Star, Hall, Loyall and Wallins were consolidated into Cawood High School, and Blanton started keeping the book for the Trojans.

He stayed there until he switched his loyalty to Harlan when Billy Hicks became the coach of the Green Dragons in the early 1980s.

When Hicks left Harlan a few years later, Blanton went back to Cawood where he kept the book until it was consolidated, along with Cumberland and Evarts, to form Harlan […]

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