Ironton St. Joe at Fairview

St. Joe coach Rex Cooksey against Fairview during the first quarter. KEVIN GOLDY | THE DAILY INDEPENDENT

Not often does something happen Rex Cooksey hasn't encountered in his 44 years as a coach, or that Mark Swift hasn't run across in 22 years as an athletic director.

But game cancellations and postponements due to illness have been so rampant in recent weeks that they're the most frequent either Fairview's girls basketball coach or Ashland's athletic director can remember.

Cooksey said this is the worst illness-induced lull of his career because "we are now in our third full week of dealing with serious sickness. The last time one of my teams was hit like this was the 2006 district and regional tournament, when strep and flu went through about the whole team. We need a long period below freezing temperatures to kill the germs."

Freezing temperatures indeed showed up late Thursday night, accompanied by snow. That added more cancellations and postponements to the ones caused by sickness earlier in the week.

The 38 boys and girls basketball teams in northeastern Kentucky competed in 35 games over the past week. By comparison, area teams played in 76 games in the same week last year.

The widespread changes have caused stress for coaches and ADs due to what time of year it is -- the regular-season home stretch.

"It can be tough trying to reschedule around already-scheduled games. You don’t want to play too many games in a week," Boyd County athletic director and girls coach Pete Fraley said. "We try to avoid playing boys and girls games on the same night, but sometimes it's unavoidable."

Several postponed games have been district seeding contests -- enough so that KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett extended the deadline for seeding games to be completed to Feb. 20, the third-to-last day of the regular season.

"This will no doubt cause hardship on some of our managers who will only have one business day for final arrangements, including brackets," Tackett wrote in a letter to principals, coaches, athletic directors and district tournament managers on Thursday, provided to The Daily Independent by an area coach. "However, it is apparent that this is a necessary step."

It isn't all bad: the unexpected nights off have provided some flexibility. Fraley, Cooksey, Raceland girls coach Ron Keeton and Ashland girls coach Bill Bradley have given their teams some of that time off to rest and heal, they said.

"I think sometimes the snow day or sick day is a welcome day off for kids' minds and bodies to reset," Keeton said. "We’ve all worked and schemed and prepped our kids for these games late in the season, so you’re just trying to hone your craft and stay conditioned. Conditioning is always your biggest worry if you are out too many days and can’t play or practice. But the rest could be more important than the concerns of losing some conditioning."

Boyd County boys coach Randy Anderson took the opposite approach: the Lions' schedule has been so game-heavy it didn't allow for much practice, he said, so Boyd County has used some of its newfound free time "to correct some weaknesses and tweak some things. It has ended up being a divine design help for us."

In a similar vein, Ashland's boys have hit the weight room and the practice floor hard, in addition to team-building activities.

"We do this with a lot of small-group games, 3-on-3, 1-on-1, etc., with no out-of-bounds or fouls," Tomcats coach Jason Mays said. "Keeps everyone honest and grounded."

The Dime

• Count us as saddened to hear the news that Rowan County "assistant coach" Hunter Mitchell died of cancer on Tuesday at age 13 of the cancer he had fought nearly from the crib.

Mitchell's joie de vivre defined him as much as his battle did, though, and seeing the deluge of photos and anecdotes of good memories that an assuredly heartbroken Vikings coach Shawn Thacker has posted on Facebook this week has been uplifting, too.

Thacker and the Vikings deserve accolades for their embrace of Mitchell and his fight over the last several years. The Rowan County community has also more than earned a respite from tragedy, to say the least.

• Besides postponements, the other theme of this past week-plus was turnarounds. None was more stark than East Carter's girls 78-76 overtime win at Boyd County on Feb. 1, less than a month after the Lady Raiders' 78-43 running-clock loss to the Lady Lions in Grayson.

"Our kids have seen a lot of change this season and we are still learning, but we were able to knock down shots and play with a confidence knowing that we can compete with them," East Carter coach Jeff Damron said. "The next step for us is to be able to play with the focus to execute on both sides of the ball."

• Morgan County's boys avenged a 66-46 loss to East Carter in West Liberty on Jan. 14 by beating the Raiders, 74-63, in Grayson on Tuesday.

It was too late to save the Cougars from the No. 4 seed in the 62nd District Tournament and an elimination date with top-seeded West Carter, but Morgan County figures to have the Comets' undivided attention, having beaten them, 67-49, on Dec. 14. West Carter won the rematch, 63-44, on Jan. 3.

• Lawrence County's boys played within eight points of Martin County on Tuesday after losing to the Cardinals by 32 points in Inez in the second game of the season. And the Bulldogs handled Floyd Central, 81-61, on Thursday, using a 34-point third quarter to gain separation just six days after needing overtime to knock off the Jaguars.

"Martin County has a really nice team and is a mismatch problem for every team in our region," Lawrence County coach Chandler Thompson said. "We did a much better job running their 3-point shooters off of the 3-point line this time than we did the first time. We struggled in the first half against Floyd Central, but came out and played extremely well defensively in the second half. I think we are starting to realize that when we play well, it’s because we play well defensively. So I’m hoping we can build off of that."

• Greenup County's boys have won three of their last four games, including two 63rd District seeding victories by three points, after dropping three straight by double digits.

"After some letdowns, both mentally and physically, I decided to try a different approach with my guys," Musketeers coach Robert Amis said. " ... I went with a more positive approach of motivation and kept practices more loose and upbeat."

• Greenup County's three-point victories over Russell on Jan. 31 and Raceland on Thursday finished off a 4-2 slate for the Musketeers in 63rd District seeding. And the Red Devils came in at 3-3 after knocking off Lewis County, 64-38, on Friday.

Where the Musketeers and the Red Devils will finish in seeding, though, remains to be determined.

The Rams (3-2) and Lions (1-4) meet in the final district seeding game of the year tonight at Raceland. A Rams win would create a tie for the top seed with the Musketeers. Because Raceland and Greenup County split their two meetings, a blind draw would determine the top seed. That would drop Russell to third.

Lewis County is locked into the fourth seed, but could make life more complicated for the Rams with a victory tonight. That would give the Musketeers the top seed and knot Raceland with Russell for the No. 2 seed, again necessitating a blind draw since the Rams and Red Devils each won on the other's floor.

• Lewis County's girls collected the 500th victory in program history with a 51-41 win over Elliott County on Saturday.

"Any time a program reaches a milestone it’s special," Lady Lions coach Jay Fite said, "not only for the team that is here at the present time, but for the players, coaches, and staff members that were there before them. Five hundred wins is something that all of those teams will share with pride."

• Independent of earlier-season results, Lewis County's girls 59-40 decision over East Carter on Monday was maybe the most eye-catching of the week.

"This team has grown tremendously after some tough losses," Fite said. "The East game was a timely win against an excellent program. East has proven to be one of the top teams in the region, so much confidence was gained."

• Lewis County's Sam O'Keefe surpassed 1,500 career points on Tuesday in the Lions' 71-53 victory at St. Patrick.

• Postseason play begins for Ohio's girls teams this week. Ironton's girls secured the No. 3 seed (of 31) among OHSAA Southeast District Division III teams and will meet 30th-seeded West Union on Wednesday night at Lucasville Valley. No. 11 South Point opposes Huntington on Thursday night in Lucasville, and eighth-seeded Coal Grove gets No. 25 Piketon tonight.

Ironton St. Joseph's girls are seeded 11th of 20 Division IV Southeast District teams and play Glenwood (New Boston) on Saturday at Northwest.

Klemme's Super Seven

BOYS

1. Ashland (23-0)

2. Rowan Co. (19-6)

3. J. Central (14-8)

4. Boyd Co. (14-11)

5. Lawrence Co. (17-9)

6. W. Carter (13-8)

7. Greenup Co. (16-8)

At the scorer's table (next three in): Raceland, Paintsville, Bath Co.

GIRLS

1. Russell (18-6)

2. Boyd Co. (13-9)

3. Ashland (15-8)

4. W. Carter (13-6)

5. Rowan Co. (15-9)

6. E. Carter (14-9)

7. Fairview (18-5)

At the scorer's table (next three in): J. Central, Lawrence Co., Lewis Co.

30-Point Club

Raceland got two entrants to the Club this week: Kirk Pence pitched in 33 points against Greenup County on Thursday night, and Andrew Floyd delivered the same total against Menifee County on Saturday.

Mason Moore notched 37 points for Rowan County on Tuesday night against Menifee County.

Reach ZACK KLEMME at zklemme@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.

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