If you’re driving through Montgomery County this Thursday around noon and there is not a soul in site, it’s because the Montgomery County Indians are going to the Kentucky Sweet 16. Kentucky has a high school basketball tournament that is held each year in the historic Rupp Arena, home of the Kentucky Wildcats, giving the high school basketball players of the great State of Kentucky a chance to be in the highlight reel. When you grow up in the state of Kentucky, your dreams may be a bit different than those of most kids. You don’t sit in your backyard envisioning throwing Joe Montana’s Super Bowl touchdown or calling your home-run shot like Babe Ruth. In fact, we rarely wanted to be Michael Jordan; we have our own heroes. With over four million people in this state, the majority of us bleed one color, and that is Kentucky blue. We grow up idolizing our favorite University of Kentucky basketball players – I grew up pretending to be either Rex Chapman (@rexchapman) or Jamal Mashburn (@jamalmashburn), hitting that game winning shot in Rupp Arena.
Unfortunately for most Kentucky children, the chance to wear that uniform is only a dream. The 1986 movie Hoosiers depicts a small-town school that beats all odds to defeat the big-city school to win the State Championship. While Indiana is known for the movie and true story of the Milan Indians, Kentucky may be the only state where that story can still remain true. The rare nature of the tournament is a story in itself, but that isn’t even the best part. This tournament isn’t about the top 16 high school basketball teams in Kentucky playing one another. The Kentucky Sweet 16 Tournament is about 16 communities. This year, to be honest, I’m a little biased. For only the 2nd time in the history of the school, my Montgomery County Indians won the 10th Region Championship and will be part of the Sweet 16.
The first time we made the tournament was in 1995. The Lexington Herald-Leader even wrote an article about a banner that was hung on a Mt. Sterling overpass that read “Last one out, Turn off the Lights.” When it was time for the Montgomery County Indians to take the floor at Rupp Arena, not many people were left in the city. The entire community takes pride in their basketball team and will go to lengths to support them. This year’s tournament has some interesting stories. One team ended the regular season at just 11-12, but went on a run to win both their District and Region. They will face their biggest task yet as the luck of the draw put them against the top ranked team remaining in the tournament. I am a little biased, but I truly believe my Indians have a great shot to shock the state. With a great attacking defense and a well balanced offense, I’m hoping to be celebrating Montgomery County’s first State Championship on Sunday.
So starting this Wednesday, March 6th, sixteen communities from across the state of Kentucky will all travel to downtown Lexington. It isn’t just about basketball, it’s about community pride. Thousands of people will take the day off to gather together as a community to support their team. The state calls this event “The Greatest Show in Hoops,” and I firmly believe it is. If you want to see good basketball and memories being made, take a day off and come visit Rupp Arena and find out what small town America is all about.
And if you are looking for me Thursday at noon, I’ll be at Rupp Arena chanting “Go Indians!” I hope to see you there and wear your red and blue, the colors of Montgomery County!