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ONLINE EXTRA: 100 years of basketball -- Western High was a special place

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By John Herndon

There are times when it really hits home just how long I have been covering Anderson County sports. We know that basketball has been played in Anderson County for 100 seasons now and, for the most part, I have been writing about the sport for a little over 25 years.


A quarter of Anderson County's hoops history? That is kind of mind-boggling when you think about it. And I can honestly say there have been few times more enjoyable than those when I had the privilege of writing about Western Eagle basketball from 1986-89.


No, I did not go to every game. At the time, I was a part-timer, writing on the side while working other jobs. But what I can tell you is that during those final four seasons of Western basketball, I had as much fun as I have ever had in this job.


Even though I knew a some about Western, I would become amazed at how little I really did know and just how much the school meant to people from the Fox Creek area and all points west to the Nelson and Washington county lines.


I already knew the ultimate Eagle, Jimmy Young, from his days of working at the old Southern States store in Lawrenceburg. I had also seen him play a time or two in the 42nd District Tounament. When I started writing for pay, he was coaching the Western girls. He would later coach the boys' team as well even though he and his wife, Mary Ann, ran a large dairy farm. To this day, I can't see how he did it.


I also knew about Paul Watts, who retired as coach of the Eagles in 1985. He'd been the coach at Gallatin County when I was a student at Anderson County High School. Our Bearcat team had been ranked in the state's Top 10 most of the year, but Watts engineered an upset on our home court. Later, my mother told me he had been her classmate at Kavanaugh High.


I also knew about Robert Turner, who had retired as principal of the school five years before, and Kent Stevens, who was guiding the school when I started writing. My aunt, Myrtle Perry, was a long-time educator, knew both, and always spoke well of both.


But other than that, about all I knew of the school was a few kids from Fairview Chrisitan Church who attended Camp Calvary with me. And I knew I thought the world of George Martin and Billy Ford, ministers of that same church, and they were huge supporters of the school.


Getting back to Western basketball, it seems kind of ironic that after 25 years, one of the most memorable games I covered was that first one back on January 12, 1985. The final score was Anderson County 64, Western 46. It was much closer than that.


I remember being so impressed with Western's David Perkins, who still might be one of the most underrated players to ever play in the county. He really shut down Anderson all-stater Orbrey Gritton that night before fouling out.


And the next year, Glen Drury, who had been an assistant at Anderson, moved 15 miles down the road to take over for Watts. Drury had been my friend since high school. I thought he was making a mistake and should wait on a “better job.”  Translation: Wait on a job at a larger school.


I am not afraid to say I was wrong. Very wrong.


It was at Western where Drury molded himself into where he is today, one of Kentucky's most respected head coaches. He's told me on several occasions that he learned more about coaching at Western than he could have ever imagined and it was the best thing that could have happened to him.


During those four years of covering the Eagles, I also got to know Jimmy Young much better and found him to be a great basketball mind and even a better person.


As a side note, Drury probably gave me the best quote I have ever heard while he was at Western. It was after the Eagles had played the socks off Henry County, at the time one of the top teams in the Eighth Region, but lost in the last minute. Drury, still upset about the loss, said, “If they had not gotten ahead of us, they would never have beaten us.”


Standing in the hallway that led to the Western gym, I was about to burst inside, but was afraid to laugh at such a hilarious statement, especially since Drury did not mean for it to be funny.  I looked at Young, who apparently was thinking the same thing. Finally, he could not control himself and broke out laughing. I joined in and we told Drury what he had said. Nearly 25 years and 400 wins later, he still laughs about it and says, “Well, it was true!”


Another great story came from the time Young's Lady Eagle team went into the locker room at halftime, up three points. They came back on the floor down three. Apparently everyone in the gym, including the opponent's score-keeper, knew the right score, but the official scorer, a Western student, had not been paying attention and missed three first half baskets.  Young still laughs about the day his team lost six points while in the locker room.


But things were not always rosy during my four years of covering Western. Even though the Eagles had had some fine teams just a few years before, the time had come when the school could rarely compete with a Nelson County or Shelby County, or even Anderson County, which only had about 600 students at the time. I wanted to be positive, but sometimes, the scores were getting so one-sided, there was little positive to say.


I believe everyone knew the end of the school was near and there was obvious tension. Some Western fans complained we gave more space to Anderson than Western, which was a valid observation, given the relative interest in the teams. Another Eagle fan lashed into me at a game. I decided to not argue back because I knew they were hurting and felt something important to them was being taken away.


At the same time, I got to know some Western fans much better. I found that they were, and are, some of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting.


Over time, I have become friends with Western grads such as Mike Rogers, James and Angie Brown, Timmy and Debbie Drury and others, because their children have played sports at Anderson County High. I came to realize that their children undoubtedly have had more athletic opportunities at Anderson County.


But I am not convinced their education is any better than what their parents received.


Before I covered my first Western game, I knew that those who loved the school believed it was a special place. Little did I realize just how special it was.


Thank you, Western, for playing a small, but significant, role in my life.