DOYLE: This new rivalry feels like the old

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SCHS boys finally beat Collins, and it makes you recall the old days with Shelbyville.

By Steve Doyle

Our universe is in apple pie order again. Wrong returns to right. Surreal reverts to real. Upside down is right side up, and forward is the motion, not reverse.

Some of you feel it, too, because you are devotees of Shelby County Rockets basketball, and ever since that new school opened out west, well, the Rocket Pride and the history of greatness have sort of become a footnote in the bigger swings of life.

Collins High School has been getting almost all the athletic glory since it opened in 2010. Heck, it even won a state football title in its fourth season. The Titans have stood as tall as, well, Titans. And they deserve every little piece of applause they have received.

But nowhere has the great divide been more pronounced than in the only sport that dominates hearts around here: basketball.

The Titans beat Shelby the first 924 times their boys played. They beat them by a lot and a little, but they always beat them.

So did their girls until last season, when Shelby County started to right the pebble-grained universe, and the Rockets have flat dominated this season.

But the boys’ games were always the same, losing story.

Until Saturday night, when the Rockets removed the stigma of two close, regular-season losses and took the 30th District championship.

That this matters is really only an issue for SCHS and those of us who wore the Gold and Northwestern Purple (not that newfangled blue) of the early years, to those of us who teach our children old SCHS cheers (S-Rah, H-rah, E-L-B-Y, rah-rah).

Collins goes on to the 8th Region Tournament, too, and as the region’s best regular-season team, could win three games and take a trip to the State Tournament. The Titans never have played in the State Tournament. They’ve lost chances with some good teams.

But the State Tournament was a regular spring destination for the Rockets in many seasons, with fans overrunning Louisville and Lexington each March like the college kids used to overrun Fort Lauderdale, albeit with a bit less debauchery.

In fact, in 2010, in their last season as a solo school, the Rockets played in the State Tournament and made a good run at upsetting Ballard. But they lost, and, next thing you knew, star-in-making Darryl Hicks decided he would transfer to Trinity, and some of the other promising youngsters and returnees moved over to Collins.

For a program that produced two state champions and two Mr. Basketballs as well as numerous other all-state stars, these four years since have become the Great Decompression. There were barren seasons and height-starved players and a need for a WPA project to bolster weak shooters. Losing started to become an image.

Heck, the Rockets lost the first eight games of this season but finished by winning seven of their final eight. That blemish was a 1-point loss to Collins when Ralphie Stone, the region’s best player, was fouled on the final shot and won with free throws.

On Saturday night the score was SCHS 65, Collins 53. That’s a statement score.

It set off a lot of celebrating among SCHS alumni. Facebook was inundated with “likes” for the score. Some people even wrote in a little cheer message. Fans everywhere came out of losing-induced seclusion.

And all of this made me feel sorry for former Shelbyville Red Devils.

Now I understand how it was for you. Your old burn is my new burn.

Back at the turn of the 1960s Shelbyville was the dominant sports program among six high schools in the county. The Devils almost always won the district title, and they made some trips to the state tourney, too. Evan Settle had a nice, long run on Main Street.

But then SCHS opened, and although those Rockets – unlike Collins – didn’t benefit from players from the other school, they immediately started to dominate.

In their first season they went to the Sweet 16 quarterfinals. In their fifth season, they were ranked No. 1 in the state. In their sixth year, they won the state title. By 1968, two Mr. Basketballs and a dozen or so NCAA Division I signees had been Rockets. The program was dominant and consistent. From 1965 through 1970, SCHS missed being regional champs once. Shelbyville won that title in 1967 and also in the final season before those two schools merged, 1975 -- a precursor to SCHS’s second title, in 1978.

You would understand, then, that Shelbyville faithful were a bit resentful of this success. There was much talk at lunch counters about superiority. There was a lot of bravado and finger-pointing.

The teams played hard, and the fans cheered hard. Games were heated. There was yelling and taunting. Once there was a fight. People talked about SHS-SCHS like they did UK-Louisville (who didn’t play in those days). All of this got a bit crazy sometimes.

But it was rivalry, and everyone had fun with it, even if losing did chafe some.

A couple of little birds told me that when SCHS played at Collins last month, during halftime festivities, SCPS Superintendent James Neihof grabbed a microphone and basically told the students to calm down and be civil to one another.

We appreciate Neihof’s neighborly motivation. He was trying to avoid fights, but all he did was create some lore for a rivalry that is now real. No longer is this a big brother-little brother duel but a full-fledged, call-them-names, curse-their-colors and challenge-their-heritage feud.

That’s what the Devils and the Rockets did back in the early days, and this shouldn’t be any different.

So let ‘em talk, James, that is what true rivals do.