Anderson, Shelby need to rethink series scheduling

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Second consecutive year that grand rivalry has had empty seats

By John Herndon

SHELBYVILLE -- There was a strange sight at Shelby County High School on Saturday night.

Empty seats. Lots of empty seats.

There was a time when I thought you would have to worry about the heat index in January before you could walk in after tipoff and get a seat -- a decent one at that -- when Anderson County and Shelby County got together for their annual border love fest.

So that bone-chiller Saturday night was just a figment of our imagination. It must have been at least 110 degrees outside.

You could point to several reasons starting with that actual wind chill that dipped down to about five degrees. I don't buy that since the last time I checked, basketball is played indoors and people go elsewhere in the cold.

Then there was that other little game being played up the road in Lexington on Saturday. There's some validity to that since the Cats and Cards definitely overshadowed the Bearcats and Rockets. When people were thinking about THE game, it was understandably the one in Rupp, not tbe clash in Shelbyville.

With CBS dictating a late afternoon tipoff, you just knew that it would affect things that night.

To its credit, Shelby changed the tipoff time from the original 7:30 to 8 p.m. For most of us -- translation: without Rupp tickets and watching at home -- that gave more than enough time to get to the Bearcats-Rockets, after UK-UL ended about 6.

If you had been in Lexington, it might have been tougher but I did see some Bearcat fans at Shelby that I knew had been in Rupp a few hours before.

From this corner, the biggest problem the last two years has been when the game has been played on the calendar. Saturday of New Year's weekend is not exactly the best time for a high school rivalry game.

But the good thing is that the schools kept with the tradition of playing on the first Friday of January. It began 10 years ago and has been played at that time every year but two. Before that, it was played in December.

From a playing standpoint, moving the game to early January makes a lot of sense. Both teams have played a month by that time, have gone through the Christmas tournament seasons and it is just a good way to get back in the routine of playing every Friday night. It is just a good time to play a game that usually has the top seed in the 30th District Tournament riding on it.

From the fans point of view, it's good since December is often filled with other commitments such as family gatherings, office parties and the like.

But sometimes there is the reality of the calendar.

The last two years, with New Year's Day coming late in the week, the game was moved to Saturday. But students had not returned to class, meaning that the in-school hype is missing. Saturday, the Shelby band and Anderson cheerleaders were missing. A year ago, the Anderson band was not there and I honestly cannot remember if Shelby brought its cheerleaders.

I need to interject and give some props to the Shelby student body Saturday night. It was being promoted as “Redneck Night” and they showed up in numbers close to normal. Anderson also had a nice student turnout but nothing like what it usually is.

Of course, all of this might not matter next year when Shelby splits into two schools, but some on both sides insist the rivalry will still be strong.

So what is a solution?

First, keep the rivalry the first Friday of the year, but when New Year's Day falls late in the week and kids have not returned to class, move it back a week, just like they did in 2003 and 2004. Those years, the teams played on Jan. 10 and 9, respectively. While that could mean juggling other games, this is a district seeding and tradition-rich game. It takes precedence.

About that little conflict with the Cats and Cards? Simple. Keep the game on the first (or rare second) Friday. The last three years, UK and U of L have played the same weekend as Anderson and Shelby. It is going to be a marquee game that CBS will carry as its lead game on Saturday or Sunday. If  the Bearcats and Rockets play on Friday, there won't be a conflict.

This game has been special for many years. There will be some changes in the future, no doubt, but hopefully both will work together to keep it one of the best in the state.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.