By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
I am ready.
Ready for Rupp Arena. Ready for the Girls’ Sweet 16. Or as it is officially known, the Mingua Beef Jerky Girls’ Sweet 16.
I’m just glad to be planning on heading to Rupp for the girls’ state tournament after the year we have all endured. And it’s another major step in getting back to a life like we enjoyed before last March.
Last March 11, I was sitting on press row at Rupp watching Anderson County hold on to defeat Franklin County, 40-37, in one of the most thrilling and intense girls’ high school basketball games I have ever seen. It was a matchup worthy of the Final Four but due to the random nature of the blind draw, it happened in the final game of the first day.
The next day, the world came to a screeching halt. Not just in Lexington, but everywhere. The college conference tournaments started canceling. Then, in no particular order, the NCAA Tournament, NBA, Major League Baseball, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 were all canceled or postponed until later in the year.
And during the afternoon of March 12, 2020, while the fifth game of the tournament, South Laurel’s 58-57 upset of Sacred Heart was being played, the decision was made to cancel the rest of the tournament. At first there was hope that the teams could get back together a few weeks later, but it soon became clear that would not be an option.
Today is a major step, even if March Madness is extending well into April, undoubtedly a first in the Kentucky high school game. For the 16 teams left, it is the fulfillment of a dream. For some of those left, it’s a chance to continue reaching for the ultimate.
For the rest of us, those watching from the stands, from press row or watching a livestream of the games on our computers, it’s another major step at getting back to life as we knew it.
We aren’t completely there and won’t be until venues like Rupp are open to be full of cheering fans, but it’s a significant step.
And for that, I am grateful.
PERSONAL FULL CIRCLE
I am obviously most familiar with the Anderson County team and would love nothing more than to see the Lady Bearcats bring the school its first KHSAA state championship in any sport.
(Anderson High did win the girls’ state track and field championship in 1964, but in an era that offered girls very few athletic opportunities, that event was sponsored by Gov. Edward Breathitt and the state government. While it was recognized as the state championship, the KHSAA did not start sanctioning girls’ track until two years later.)
Anyway, back to the current tournament, I obviously know the Anderson County team better than any other in the field. I covered Anderson sports in The Anderson News for 34 years and remember receiving submitted photos of some of the girls for their travel team accomplishments when they were in elementary school.
I remember seeing Sophie Smith hanging around Lady Bearcat games when Makenzie Cann and Eriel McKee were leading the Lady Bearcats to a Final Four finish in 2013 but that was simply because I had known who Sophie was from the time she started playing the sport. Her grandfather, Steve Barriger, was one of my high school coaches and favorite teachers while her mom, Tamara, worked across the hall from me at The Anderson News at the time. I knew her dad, Joe, as one of the best athletes — football, baseball and basketball — to ever play at Anderson.
I also remember seeing some of the other young kids’ names and wondering what the family connections were. After all, there were “Anderson County names” in the captions of those submitted photos — every small town has those prominent family names, you know — so I wondered. I would later learn that Rachel Satterly was the granddaughter of Jim Hawthorne, the former Western Anderson basketball coach I got to know through writing. And that meant her aunt was Nicole Hawthorne Wilson, who I had written about when she played for the Eagles.
And, I also remembered writing about Rachel’s mom, Amy, during her time playing against Anderson for Mercer County. A funny side note, there was one time when I referred to Amy as Nicole’s little sister and not long after, Jim came up to me laughing and telling me Amy wasn’t too happy about that. It was cool and I still laugh about it.
Ahhh, small town life.
So yeah, I congratulate all the kids playing at Rupp this week, but my strongest connection is obviously to Anderson County and I would love to be watching the Lady Bearcats be playing Saturday night.
SPEAKING OF MERCER COUNTY ….
There’s another personal Sweet 16 story that makes a personal full circle with me this week.
Not too long after I went full-time at The Anderson News in 2001, I got a note suggesting a story that crossed county lines. At the time, we had a strong presence in Mercer County, especially the Salvisa area, and a reader, knowing my background as a minister, wrote in asking if I would consider writing a story about the Mercer County girls’ basketball team praying after games.
At the time, the post-game prayer circles were rare and I might have never seen one, but had heard about the team’s practice and thought it would be a good story. I approached my publisher, Don White, about writing a story about one of Anderson County’s rivals and he gave full approval.
I contacted then-Mercer coach Chris Souder about the possibility and he set the story up. I met him and some of his players at the Wendy’s in Harrodsburg and wrote a story that was very well received.
And most of all, that story, as much as anything, brought into focus how writing could be a ministry in itself.
So how is that relevant to this week? Chris Souder left Mercer County for a college coaching job after winning two state championships. He didn’t stay at the college level long and returned to the high school ranks, taking over the program at South Laurel High School.
The Lady Cardinals are also making a return trip to Rupp and if they defeat Franklin County and Anderson County defeats Southwestern, South Laurel will play Anderson County on Friday afternoon.
Thanks Chris Souder, for helping me get started with something that almost 20 years later has become a ministry passion.
WORKING THIS WEEK’S TOURNAMENT
I will be working this week’s tournament differently than anything in the past. While there are significant changes in media coverage due to COVID protocols, I will be working with GLICOD radio, providing some commentary at times, shooting some photos for that company’s website as space allows and working in other capacities.
A major thanks to Chris Labar of GLICOD for contacting me during the season to be a part of the Anderson County coverage. We will be there as long as Anderson is alive. You can listen to the GLICOD broadcasts at https://www.glicod.com.
HAT TIP TO THE KHSAA
A major tip of the hat to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association for being able to hold the Sweet 16s for both the boys (last week) and girls. That the KHSAA has been able to navigate during all the changing protocols of the tournament has been amazing and I, for one, am grateful.
I know of no one totally happy with every decision the KHSAA has made in dealing with COVID, but nearly everyone connected with high school sports seems to be glad the games are being played. It’s been a fluid situation with a lot of things being done on the fly, but my hat is off to the KHSAA for a job well done.
Thank you for your support of 110forChrist.com. This ministry, like everything else, has been slowed by COVID protocols but your continued support and prayers have kept us energized and going. Our outreach expanded greatly during the 30th District and Eighth Region tournaments and our social media presence had days higher than any other since this ministry and website were launched.
Keep praying that someone might be inspired by our work. All glory to HIM!