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COLUMN: Goodbye to a good guy

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It won’t be the same without Gary Forrest around

By John Herndon

It just won’t be the same next winter.

At least when Oldham County comes to town next January.

Gary Forrest won’t be there.

Oh, he might be in the building, we don’t know. But someone else will be sitting in the visiting coach’s seat.

Forrest announced in April that he would be stepping aside after guiding the program that became the Eighth Region’s most dominant of this decade.

He’ll be taking about 500 wins and five Eighth Region championships in 21 years as head coach at Buckner. Anderson’s Glen Drury, with 22 years under his belt, is the only Eighth Region coach who has been around longer.

It is no coincidence that over the last few years, Forrest and Drury have largely been considered the cream of the Eighth Region coaching crop.

Doing things the right way for a long time will do that for you.

Forrest has always been one of my favorites. Behind that stare and look of disgust when an official was obviously wrong – at least in Forrest’s mind – is one of the true gentlemen in high school sports. I e-mailed him about a month ago, offering congratulations on a truly great run at Oldham.

“The only head coaching job I ever had,” Forrest replied. I could picture Forrest cracking that familiar smile.

Over the years, you knew that the Colonels were going to be good throughout the year and a major handful in March. They would be smart, disciplined and would play tough defense, usually man-to-man but always mixed with a zone that would best utilize the available talent.

Forrest defeated Anderson more often than not but the Bearcats took the last three, including a 55-36 romp at Buckner on Jan. 9.

But usually it was a contest more like Oldham’s last win over the Bearcats, a 38-32 grind-it-out affair in the 2007 Eighth Region Tournament semifinals as Oldham went on to the Sweet 16. The next night, Oldham pulled a major upset to win Forrest’s last regional crown.

Longtime Oldham radio voice Mike Montgomery says that one “was a classic Forrest coaching job, as the Colonels upset the heavily-favored Simon Kenton Pioneers in overtime in the championship, despite the fact that the Pioneers had the Region Player of the Year and the Player of the Year runner-up.

“Perhaps the biggest key to him being able to make his teams annual contenders in the Eighth Region was his ability to prepare a team. Given even a short time frame, Forrest was one of the best in Kentucky at convincing his team that they could overcome even the most daunting opponent, and preparing a game plan that continuously put his teams in a position to win.”

That might be why Anderson and Oldham had such an interesting series over the years.

Forrest and Drury guided their teams through an epic rivalry in the mid-1990’s as Anderson had stars such as Will Carlton and Jonathan Beasley while Oldham boasted Wes Husband and Eric Liedtke.

Oldham won by three points in the 1994 regional semis, Anderson won by four the following year in the same round. In 1997, Oldham got hot at the right time, upsetting Scott and Shelby counties to advance to the regional final before falling to Anderson 55-53.

All three of those Bearcat-Colonel clashes were finally decided in the final 10 seconds.

That 1997 regional final was the last time Anderson would beat Oldham until the 2007 King of the Bluegrass tournament, but nearly every one of the contests in between went down to the wire.

“All of our games really could have gone either way,” Forrest said. “I think that’s how equal or even we have been over the years.

“I think the rivalry with Anderson – Oldham has always been clean, yet hard fought. I guess the two schools’ teams sort of mimic their head coaches. We respect one another and are similar in many ways. Not always great athletes, but hard-working competitors.”

Gary Forrest is old-school, no question. That might explain why he liked bringing his teams to Anderson County, despite knowing the Colonels would have to scrap for everything they got. “That place is loud!” he told me several years back.

But Forrest always respected the atmosphere at Anderson County, even jokingly asking if “the veterans” (Charlie Bryant, Pee Wee Robinson and company) would be sitting near the Bearcat bench when the gym was renovated several years ago.

“(It was) just knowing it will be loud, a full house of fans and hard-fought action on the floor,” Forrest says of Anderson. “Man, that is what high school basketball ‘used’ to be about.”

A Louisville native, Forrest has been teaching and coaching since 1975 with stops at Barren County and Somerset before landing for good at Oldham. He’s retiring from the sideline and the classroom, where he was a highly respected social studies teacher.

When we corresponded, he was planning on traveling, another passion. He goes to Europe every summer with some Oldham kids and has a chance to travel to the Mid-East in July to conduct some basketball clinics for an organization similar to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“I plan on doing the same thing next spring in China,” Forrest said. “I always tell our kids to have a ‘Plan B or C’ in case Plan A doesn’t work, but really I’m just sort of winging it.”

Jason Holland, who built Henry County into a regional force the last few years, will be moving about 20 miles west, occupying the seat Forrest did for 21 years. But he certainly won’t be replacing the Oldham County legend.

“My wife might not want me around too much, as we aren’t used to being with one another a lot lot during certain times of the year,” Forrest quipped.

“We shall see.”

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