Hunter Mitchell loves basketball.
The first-grader from Clearfield Elementary can be seen in a Rowan County jumpsuit with his very own whistle and stopwatch. He stands inside the huddle as high school boys coach Shawn Thacker outlines a game plan to the Vikings.
It’s like he’s part of the team.
“He’s a crackerjack,” Thacker said. “He’s a fun kid to talk to and be around. He’s got charisma and spunk and that’s everything that we look for in our players and coaches.”
Much like in the game of basketball, there is adversity to overcome and setbacks in life.
Mitchell and his family know that all too well.
The 7-year-old is in his third bout with cancer in his young life. The type of cancer, Neuroblastoma, is a tumor that develops from nerve tissue that primarily targets infants and children.
Mitchell gets his treatment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He goes there once a week and undergoes treatment every 21 days.
Thacker first met Mitchell during a visit at his home. Thacker is a homebound teacher for students. He noticed a basketball goal in the living room and both started talking about the game.
That’s when Thacker asked him to come to a game one night and be an honorary assistant coach.
“It’s great,” Thacker said. “Any time you can do something for somebody who is putting up a fight, and doing something special for a kid like that, it’s special.”
Naturally, Hunter, who calls Rowan County “his team,” likes the big-impact plays that the Vikings can pull off on a nightly basis.
“I like it when they throw the ball up and one of them dunks it,” Hunter said. “It’s fun to be here watching them and I like coaching them around, too.”
Bradley Mitchell, Hunter’s father, brought him to last week’s game when the Vikings hosted Fleming County in a 61st District contest. Basketball is not only a release for Hunter, but his family as well.
“He loves doing this,” Bradley said. “It keeps his spirits up and gets his mind off things.”
Rowan County’s players immediately accepted Mitchell as one of their own. They had Hunter sign their shoes. He slaps hands with all of them as they are announced for the starting lineup. He looks for a newspaper any time it comes out to see his favorite players on the front page.
On more than one occasion this season, the boys basketball program has helped raise money for Hunter and his family. They have collected more than $1,000 to help pay for travel expenses.
“It’s been a good experience for him and I’m proud of the community and the way they have stepped up to help this family out,” Thacker said. “We all know they’re going through a tough time and this is just a way for us to help one of our own out.”
Thacker said Hunter is just as good of a student as he is a coach. He gets perfect scores on spelling and reading tests and stays on task. While he is in Cincinnati undergoing treatment, an instructor helps him with his work so he does not get behind.
Much like the adversity in a basketball game when Rowan County is down by a few points late in the fourth quarter, there is only one thing that Hunter said he has to do.
“I have to fight it,” he said clearly.
“He’s strong and he gets us through it more than anything,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t bother him because he knows it has to be done. He’s a fighter.
“He doesn’t let anything get him down.”
For Thacker and his players, it’s a real reminder of what life is all about.
“Our kids appreciate him and keeps things in perspective when it comes to basketball,” Thacker said. “We have a special group of kids that we can be very proud of reaching a hand out to make Hunter feel like a part of team and coaching staff.”
Clearfield Elementary student with cancer gets joy with Rowan County basketball
Hunter Mitchell loves basketball.
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Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
- Fleming hangs tough to beat Lewis Fleming County locked into another fight against Lewis County, which beat the Panthers earlier this season, before winning 66-58 on Monday in Morehead. Wilder Williams posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers, who face Ashland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
- GALLERY: Ashland gets by Greenup County, will meet Fleming in region final Ashland's Steven Friley scored 21 points Monday to lead the Tomcats to an 81-61 win over Greenup County in the 16th Region semifinal in Morehead.
Kittens clamoring for more at state
Ashland girls basketball coaches went the extra mile, and a whole bunch more, to get a first-hand scouting report on the Kittens’ opponent for the State Tournament.
Head coach Bill Bradley and assistant Phil Wittich drove all the way to Henderson — 5 hours, 20 minutes one way Bradley said on the way home — to take in Sunday’s Second Region championship game.
Henderson County, playing on its home floor, defeated University Heights 67-54. The Lady Colonels went unbeaten in their region this season and are 24-5 overall.
EKC hands out hardware
The Eastern Kentucky Conference handed out its 2014 awards on Monday afternoon at a luncheon at Carter Caves.
Barracudas earn kudos from coach
Ashland Area YMCA swimmers impressed coach Ryan Ferguson from start to finish in the three-day Kentucky Y Competitive Swim League State Meet.
Kings 'just play' to beat Gem City
Before Sunday, Kentucky Kings coach Tim Fraley had only seen small snippets of what his team’s true potential.
On Sunday night, he got to watch it for an entire half.
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- Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game