When Jay Fite decided Lewis County’s girls basketball team would honor former Lady Lions coach Kevin Lewis, he looked for one particular date on the schedule to do it.
Fite selected Friday night, because Raceland was in town.
“That was definitely intentional to do that,” Fite said, “just because some coaches may not understand what’s going on or who you’re bringing in, but I knew Ron, being a close personal friend, would definitely appreciate it.”
Fite and Lady Rams coach Ron Keeton and some of their assistants typically spend time together at the state tournament every March in a group that includes Lewis, and they speak regularly throughout the season, even beyond awkward small talk on the floor before games.
Keeton said that Sweet Sixteen tradition dates back to when Bob Trimble was the Lady Rams’ coach and Keeton assisted him in 2011. They also try to gather for the Hop Brown Golf Scramble every summer, and their families are even close — Fite’s daughter Jaycey and Keeton’s daughter Krystal played together on a spring travel team coached by their fathers.
Lewis’s daughter, Macy, once sustained a cut in Raceland’s summer league and “it was like one of your own kids getting injured,” Keeton said.
“You try to teach your players that what we do is about more than basketball,” Fite said. “Opposing coaches, you’re obviously not gonna be super close with every one of them, but we’ve been fortunate with Ron just to get that time to get to know each other and each other’s families and get to spend some time with them off the court. The state tournament is always just a valuable time for us that we can kinda sit back and enjoy conversation and reflection on the year.”
Lewis has been part of that group, although he hung it up as the Lady Lions’ coach in 2002. He still works at Lewis County as a guidance counselor.
Fite thought this an appropriate time to honor Lewis — whom he met when Lewis became a boys assistant coach at Tollesboro during Fite’s junior year there in 1993-94 — because Lewis’s daughters, Macy and Jadan, are in 12th and ninth grade, respectively.
“We always talk to our kids about the importance of the people that have been here before you,” Fite said. “Of course, they’ve all known Mr. Lewis, or Kevin, from their experiences there at school, but many of them, with him coaching his last year in 2002, they may not know how long he had been there or if he even had coached there before.”
The camaraderie between Fite, Keeton and their staffs is made more remarkable because they are chasing the same thing — the 63rd District’s berth in the 16th Region Tournament that isn’t typically occupied by Russell, which carries a 31-game district winning streak into today’s game at Raceland.
“While we compete against one another and you do want to come out of those battles with a victory for your team, there’s great respect and mutual love for each other,” Keeton said. “And you share in the successes and disappointments of each team with your friends. It’s a friendship you know you can count on in the best and worst of times.”
• Ashland’s boys’ schedule, already chock full of stout tests, adds another on Tuesday when the Tomcats meet defending state champion Trinity at Transylvania University in Lexington.
The Shamrocks graduated five of the six players who scored against Scott County in a 50-40 victory in the state final, while Ashland returns four starters from last season and added point guard Colin Porter, who has dazzled with his distribution skills.
Will that be enough for the Tomcats to flip the 60-30 loss to Trinity in last year’s state quarterfinals into a victory? Whether Ashland extends its best start since 1976-77 to 15-0 or sustains its first setback, it is difficult to recall a 16th Region boys team in recent memory that has been as tested outside the region as the Tomcats.
• Fairview’s girls won their first 10 games before sustaining their first two losses, to Elliott County and Boyd County, last week. And, though the Lady Lions represented a stiff step up in competition, don’t try to tell Lady Eagles coach Rex Cooksey that Fairview hasn’t played anybody.
“Everybody (talks) about your schedule,” Cooksey said, “but the same people, five of them beat us last year, and we turned around and got them.”
Cooksey slightly exaggerated, likely for effect, but the Lady Eagles did avenge 2018-19 losses to Green (Ohio), Bath County and Raceland during that 10-0 start and also knocked off Coal Grove, which leads the Ohio Valley Conference.
• Chase Porter and Colin Porter aren’t the first set of brothers to claim Ashland Invitational Tournament titles, but they did it in unique fashion — for different schools.
Chase was the tournament MVP on Elliott County’s first-ever AIT championship team in 2015, while Colin joined him as an AIT titlist at Ashland this season.
Chase, a student at Morehead State, was at Anderson Gym to see Colin join the club on Dec. 29. Chase sees a similarity in their game, although he gives Colin the edge in talent.
“Colin and I both pride ourselves on making the guys around us better,” Chase said. “We can control a game without scoring. He had four points against Butler (in the AIT final), but his fingerprints were all over that game. Colin’s got more talent than I ever thought about having.”
• 64th District girls seeding has undergone a format change. Ashland, Boyd County and Fairview now each play each other once instead of twice for seeding purposes. Rose Hill Christian doesn’t compete in girls seeding or tournament play.
Lady Eagles coach and athletic director Rex Cooksey made the proposal.
“The way all this goes, most of the time we’re gonna play whoever loses between Boyd County and Ashland (in the district semifinal),” Cooksey said. “I don’t know who’s gonna win that game between those two, but we’re gonna play a tough opponent here come Feb. 23 or 24.”
Kittens coach Bill Bradley and Lady Lions coach Pete Fraley had no opposition.
“I see and totally understand Fairview’s position,” Bradley said. “Playing them once frees us up to schedule a different opponent.”
Boyd County beat Fairview, 65-34, on Friday and can clinch the top district seed and an automatic berth in the region tournament if it tops Ashland on Jan. 13.
“We approach all district games that way anyway,” Fraley said, “so it didn’t matter if we play twice, three, four times. That’s our mentality.”
The Lady Lions and Kittens will still meet twice, with only the first game counting toward seeding.
• A familiar face in 64th District girls basketball has found a new landing spot.
Haley-Sue Foutch, who as a player helped Ashland torment Boyd County en route to four straight 16th Region Tournament titles last decade, is now an assistant coach for the Lady Lions.
Foutch became the physical education teacher at Catlettsburg Elementary this year, and Fraley had an assistant opening on his staff.
“I called Haley-Sue and said, ‘Hey, I got a spot,’ and she said, ‘OK,’” Fraley said, grinning. “That’s how it happened.”
Foutch has coached against her alma mater before, as a volunteer assistant at Rowan County, but her presence at Ashland’s archrival adds another layer to what would already have been intriguing games on Jan. 13 in Summit and Jan. 24 in Ashland.
• If observers did a double-take upon seeing Boyd County’s boys uniforms on Friday night at Fairview, that was what Randy Anderson wanted.
“We want our young players to know about their heritage — and that it lives on,” the Lions’ coach said.
Boyd County sported red jerseys trimmed in blue with “Summit” across the chest in Westwood, which they will wear in all road 64th District games, Anderson said. The Lions also have white “Catlettsburg” jerseys to wear in home district contests, including a date with Rose Hill Christian at Catlettsburg Elementary on Jan. 30.
The idea is to fete the former Summit and Catlettsburg Junior Highs.
“We love having this chance to honor them,” Anderson said.
• Menifee County’s boys didn’t go to just any holiday tournament. The Wildcats participated in the Dan Swartz Classic at Bath County, named after the late Bath County native and Morehead State graduate who won an NBA championship ring in 1963 with the Boston Celtics.
Swartz was the uncle of Menifee County coach Tim Swartz, who was happy to have his team play in this year’s event and to present the Player of the Game award after a couple of contests.
“When Dad and Dan got together, there was going to be sports and politics discussed, because they both loved these two things,” Swartz recalled. “It would probably take place at an old country store in Bath or Menifee County. At one time, Dan was sheriff in Bath County and my dad was sheriff or judge in Menifee at the same time.”
Swartz has also taken pleasure in pointing out to his team a banner representing his uncle’s retired jersey hanging in the rafters of Johnson Arena during summer camps at Morehead State.
• Greenup County’s boys’ ninth win of the season was particularly special because it took place in Knightstown, Indiana — a quintessentially Hoosier place name, to be sure, but famous in this case because it played host to filming of the movie “Hoosiers” in 1986.
The Musketeers topped Letcher County Central, 65-54, on Saturday in one of the gyms in which the movie was made.
“A great experience for our team and fans,” Greenup County coach Robert Amis said. “Coaching in such a famous venue is a check off my personal bucket list. Getting to share the opportunity and a piece of history with such a great group of young men is something special. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone.”
Bath County’s boys made the trip to Knightstown last season.
• Mark Starns, who coached Johnson Central to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006 and piloted Fleming County on consecutive trips to Rupp Arena in 2013-14, was back in northeastern Kentucky over the weekend. He’s an assistant coach at Union County, which met Ashland on Friday night and Lewis County on Saturday evening.
Starns didn’t enjoy quite the same success this time around. The Braves fell to the Tomcats, 84-49, and the Lions, 69-49.
• Rose Hill Christian’s Delaynee Sparks scored her 1,000th career point on Dec. 26 against Ironton St. Joseph. Johnson Central’s Sammi Sites reached the same milestone two days later against Boyd County.
Klemme’s Super Seven
1. Ashland (14-0)
2. Rowan Co. (10-5)
3. Raceland (9-2)
4. Greenup Co. (9-3)
5. J. Central (6-5)
6. Boyd Co. (7-6)
7. Lawrence Co. (8-6)
At the scorer’s table (next three in): Russell, E. Carter, W. Carter.
1. Ashland (10-3)
2. Boyd Co. (8-6)
3. Russell (6-5)
4. W. Carter (6-4)
5. E. Carter (10-3)
6. Rowan Co. (6-7)
7. Fairview (11-2)
At the scorer’s table (next three in): J. Central, Lawrence Co., Morgan Co.
The Marvin Meredith Classic at Russell on Saturday was a popular point spot. Lewis County’s Sam O’Keefe pitched in 31 points in a win over Union County, while Johnson Central’s Isaiah May netted 39 in an overtime loss to the Red Devils.
Morgan County’s Jake Helton dropped in 34 points on Dec. 28 versus Sayre.
Sidney Argo netted 36 for Fleming County on Friday against Bath County.
Lawrence County’s Kensley Feltner collected 33 points on Thursday against Tug Valley (West Virginia).
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.