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It’s not often that I respond to a column that appears in another publication, especially a local paper similar to The Anderson News.
After 24 years in the business, I know it can be difficult to put together a factual, yet interesting story. In sports writing, when you are often crossing county lines for game stories, it can be doubly tough.
But I often check out other publications to see their take on an Anderson game just to get a different perspective. So last week, I browsed our sister paper, the Carrollton News-Democrat, for its coverage of the girls’ Eighth Region basketball tournament game between Anderson County and Carroll County.
Surprised? That is an understatement.
Apparently, News-Democrat staff writer Sharon Graves was none too thrilled with about a dozen Anderson students who were at the game, played at South Oldham. In her column, she refers to them as “roughnecks,” “rowdy bullies” and “hooligans.” Their teen-age antics are “mob mentality.”
I wondered if we had been at the same game.
It was a lambasting of some of the finest young men I have ever had the privilege of being around.
Their crimes? According to Graves, the Anderson students were on the Carroll County side harassing the Carroll team the entire game.
That is not entirely correct. Last Monday, both Carroll and Anderson had large followings for the second game of the tournament. Most of the young men in question had been participating in basketball practice or spring sports workouts and arrived late in the first game between South Oldham and Walton-Verona.
Most seats near the floor, where most kids like to cheer their friends on, had been taken. Instead of bullying their way to stand in front of adult fans, these young men sat near the top of the arena until the conclusion of the first game. Then, they moved to the other side, where South Oldham fans had been during game one.
Technically, they were on the Carroll side but were completely at the other end of the gym well apart from the Carroll cheering section. They were certainly enthusiastic and boisterous in cheering and heckling that goes with March Madness, but “roughnecks”?
Graves listed one of their offenses as yelling, “Air ball, air ball!” every time one of the Lady Panthers touched the ball. You have got to be kidding me. That 40-year-old chant is as much a part of the game as Nikes. I hear it nearly every game I cover.
She went on to assert that no adult from “the other side” did anything about the “uncouth behavior.”
Anderson teachers Steve Rucker and Jeremy Cook, who I saw policing the area, probably need to take that as a compliment. Both are in their 20s but must look 10 years younger.
The kids apparently were also goading a red-headed Carroll player by calling her, “Ginger, Ginger.”
You know. Gilligan’s Island.
Rucker says he told the kids to stop yelling that. I can’t say for sure, but Rucker and several of the boys say they did.
I showed a copy of the column to Anderson principal Ray Woodyard. He was obviously aggravated by the unflattering picture being painted. Woodyard also noted that Cook and Rucker were with students.
“They were kids being kids,” he said, with some obvious exasperation. “It’s part of it. We do not allow them to do anything that is obscene or vulgar.”
I might interject that over the years, I have received numerous comments from writers, coaches and administrators from other communities praising Anderson fans for their enthusiasm and Woodyard’s diligence in crowd control. Problems have come from adults, not students.
In her column, Graves asked why no one from the host school, or Anderson did anything about the “hooligans.” Could it be that no one else saw a problem?
Some of the young men in question are straight-A students. They answer questions intelligently, and use “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” liberally. A couple always make it a point to say “thank you” after an interview.
My wife, an elementary school teacher in a neighboring county, has been so impressed by some of these “bullies” that she has brought her students to Anderson games to talk with them.
The boys aren’t perfect, but they are kids that should make their parents proud.
Just as Carroll County can be proud of its team, which had been eliminated by a team that simply had more weapons. Coach Randy Mefford has been one of my favorites. He is a first-class individual and Carroll is lucky to have him. As always, he was gracious when we talked last Monday.
I also remember Carroll Principal John Leeper from his days coaching at Bullitt Central. He is a true gentleman that would make any school proud. The Carroll fans supported the Panthers well and during the game I noted that the Panther band was one of the most enthusiastic I had seen all year.
Carroll County certainly has reason for pride in its team and school. But to inaccurately lambaste another community’s kids for simply being kids was an undeserved cheap shot.
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.