Boyd County Middle School felt like a throwback on Wednesday night, and not just because the Lions wore “Catlettsburg” jerseys.
Not quite all 3,159 seats were occupied, but the facility felt full when top-ranked Ashland came to town for the latest installment of what is currently the most significant rivalry in the 16th Region.
Both schools’ bands and cheerleaders were on hand, contributing to the big-game feel. Paid attendance was 972, said Boyd County athletic director Pete Fraley, which didn’t account for school district employees, kids under the age of 10, and those over 65 who get a spirit card from the board of education office. Those groups get in free.
Wednesday night’s patrons were treated to a thriller won by the Tomcats, 55-50.
Boyd County’s gym isn’t an easy one to fill because of its capacity — it’s the second-biggest in the 16th Region to Greenup County, according to the KHSAA website. But the crowd Wednesday night was “by far” the largest in Summit, Fraley said, since then-UK recruit Andrew Wiggins and Huntington Prep played before a packed house on Saturday night in the Boyd County Roundball Classic in 2012.
As a general rule, people just don’t turn out to high school sporting events like they used to, especially for non-rivalry games. The educated guess here is the proliferation of other home entertainment options is the main culprit, among a handful of other lesser factors, such as streaming options to watch many games live and a general decline in school and community pride in the more ambivalent sectors of society. It should also be mentioned the other Cats — Kentucky’s — also played Wednesday night, which has been known to affect attendance at high school contests.
But Boyd County-Ashland was the latest of several games around northeastern Kentucky this year that have featured significant crowds.
Ashland’s James A. Anderson Gymnasium was near capacity on back-to-back nights in January. Tomcats athletic director Mark Swift estimated the crowd at 1,500 people for Ashland’s 70-30 victory over Russell on Jan. 10 and 1,464 people for the first part of the Tomcats’ 71-60 win over Boyd County the next night. Anderson Gym holds 1,600, Swift said.
Nine-hundred twenty-seven people paid to watch the Red Devils game and 891 paid to get into the Lions game, Swift said. Attendance estimates also account for season-ticket holders, the band, school district employees, senior card holders, teams, cheerleaders, security and working staff, who get in free.
The Raceland at Russell game on Jan. 24 was nearly standing-room only. Marvin Meredith Gym holds about 1,350 people, Red Devils athletic director Joe Bryan said.
Both East Carter-West Carter games, as well as Fairview’s home dates with Boyd County and Ashland, provided strong crowds, which for those encounters is standard operating procedure.
Ashland coach Jason Mays lauded the atmosphere on Wednesday night and the Tomcats’ fan base — as well as their archrival’s.
“I don’t mind playing here at all,” Mays said. “It’s a fun place to play. I think Boyd County’s fans were really respectful tonight. I love how our fans turned out. I think we had as many fans as they did, and that’s been the case here since Christmas, really, when we’ve traveled on the road.”
• Kelly Wells announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as the University of Pikeville’s men’s basketball coach at the end of this season, his 24th as a head coach at the college and high school levels and his 14th at Pikeville.
Before Wells was regarded as one of the best small-college coaches in the country, and before he coached Mason County to the 2003 state title and directed UPike to the 2011 NAIA national crown, as a player he led Rowan County to three straight 16th Region Tournament titles from 1987-89.
“I am who I am because of my growing up in Rowan County and Morehead,” Wells said. “I couldn’t ask for a better environment of influential people in my life, from personal, school, basketball and church (levels). Blessed would be an understatement.”
Wells currently serves as the Bears’ coach and as the school’s athletic director.
“Having two full-time jobs and choosing to be the dad and husband I want to be made the dual role very challenging,” Wells said. “It is time for me to give my family my best and not what I have left.”
Wells’s teams are 546-223 over four stops over his career. He will stay on as AD after hanging up the whistle.
“The thing I am proudest of are all the living trophies that our family has been able to have some impact on,” Wells said. “Seeing the players, coaches, etc., that have been around us grow into fine men and women is the greatest gift of all. Success is measured differently by different people, and I choose to invest my value in others and relationships.”
• Ashland’s rise to No. 1 in the state Associated Press boys poll this week was the first by a northeastern Kentucky boys team since Paintsville did it on the week of Dec. 16, 1986.
The Tomcats were also atop the poll for three weeks in 1953 and four weeks in 1972. No other 16th Region school has ever been ranked No. 1 on the boys side.
Ashland became the first program from eastern Kentucky to be rated tops in the state since South Laurel on the week of Feb. 21, 2006.
• Ashland alum and former Russell boys coach Steve Dodd recently hit the 600 career victories milestone at Sycamore (Tennessee). Dodd, a 1973 Ashland graduate, skippered the Red Devils to 98 wins from 2002-08, including the 2006 16th Region Tournament title.
• Menifee County’s girls won their 200th game under coach Paul Ricker’s direction on Saturday afternoon, knocking off Greenup County, 54-39.
“I’ve been blessed with hard-working assistants and wonderful players,” Ricker said. “Most of the credit should go to them. It’s a nice accomplishment and we are focused as a coaching staff and team to try to get a lot more.”
• Menifee County’s boys said sayonara to a 15-game losing streak against 61st District opponents on Tuesday night when Dalton Martin drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Wildcats over Fleming County, 63-62.
The Panthers went ahead with 6 seconds to go off a Menifee County turnover. But the Wildcats broke the ensuing press and Martin got loose for the game-winner.
“It was a great moment for our kids,” Menifee County coach Tim Swartz said. “Today we get to learn from our mistakes without having a loss tied to it. ... I’ve said since summer I like this team. We have some grit; we’re usually always out-sized and not as athletic, but we have a big heart.”
• Greenup County and Raceland’s girls meet Friday night at Raceland in what stacks up as a winner-take-all game for the 63rd District’s No. 3 seed — paramount because that would mean avoiding heavy favorite Russell in the district tournament elimination round.
The Lady Musketeers beat Lewis County, 42-39, in Vanceburg on Thursday night to set that up. It was Greenup County’s first district seeding victory of the season and its second win overall in a 12-game span.
• Fairview’s boys strung together their first three-game winning streak since December 2015 with a 68-43 victory at Covenant (West Virginia) on Monday night. That stretch included beating Green (Ohio) by nine points after the Eagles lost in Franklin Furnace by 12 in December, as well as a 33-point victory over a Rose Hill Christian team that took Fairview to overtime in the first week of the season.
Even the loss that ended the spree — a 79-55 setback to top-ranked Ashland on Friday — was 14 points closer than the Eagles’ first encounter with the Tomcats on Dec. 9.
“The kids have continued to work hard each week,” Fairview coach Brett Cooksey said. “As the team has gained experience and understanding roles, we have improved each game.”
• Lawrence County’s girls knocked off Floyd Central, 71-67, on Friday night in a rematch of the last two 58th District Tournament title games. It was the Lady Bulldogs’ second win in eight tries against the Lady Jaguars since Floyd Central was formed by the consolidation of Allen Central and South Floyd in 2017.
“They have owned us for the past couple of years, so it was good to beat them,” Lawrence County coach Melinda Feltner said. “Very proud of our team effort against Floyd Central. We competed and battled the entire game and that’s what we want to see heading into the home stretch of our season. Tournament time is right around the corner. We want to build on Friday night’s success and continue to get better prepared for tournament time.”
• Boyd County’s Blake Stewart surpassed 2,000 career points on Thursday night against Rose Hill Christian at Catlettsburg Elementary. Lawrence County’s Lexie Ratliff reached that mark the next night against Floyd Central.
• A mea culpa: in this space on Jan. 6, I wrote that Rex Cooksey had “slightly exaggerated, likely for effect,” in reference to a quote about Fairview’s girls’ early-season résumé.
Problem was, I misinterpreted the point Cooksey was making, thinking he was referring to the number of teams the Lady Eagles had already defeated at that point that Fairview lost to last season. He was not — he meant the number of total teams on the Lady Eagles’ slate that beat them in 2018-19. He hilariously corrected this point on last week’s “Halftime Prep Talk,” by the way, if you haven’t seen it.
For the record, Fairview now owns four victories against teams it lost to last season: Bath County, Raceland (twice) and Green (Ohio).
Klemme’s Super Seven
1. Ashland (23-0)
2. Rowan Co. (18-6)
3. J. Central (14-8)
4. Boyd Co. (13-11)
5. Lawrence Co. (15-8)
6. W. Carter (12-8)
7. Raceland (14-5)
At the scorer’s table (next three in): Greenup Co., Paintsville, Bath Co.
1. Russell (16-6)
2. Boyd Co. (13-8)
3. Ashland (14-6)
4. W. Carter (13-6)
5. Rowan Co. (14-9)
6. E. Carter (14-8)
7. Fairview (18-5)
At the scorer’s table (next three in): J. Central, Lawrence Co., Elliott Co.
Paintsville garnered two invitations to the Club on the same night on Wednesday. Colby Fugate scored 38 points and Nick Keeton dropped in 34 for the Tigers against Magoffin County.
Boyd County’s Harley Paynter produced 36 points on Saturday night against East Carter.
Bath County’s Ashtyn Barrett pitched in 32 points against Robertson County on Thursday.
Shaelyn Steele netted 37 points for Russell versus Boyd County on Tuesday.
Kensley Feltner dropped 31 points for Lawrence County on Pikeville on Monday.
Russell’s Charlie Jachimczuk came up with 35 points against Greenup County on Friday.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.