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For 35 years and 17 State Tournament appearance, it has been a one-act show -- 41,000 strong, all behind the Rockets.
Now, with Martha Layne Collins High School on the horizon and ready to open this fall, it’s time for one last run.
After the football team put together one of its strongest regular seasons in a long time, now it’s the basketball team’s turn.
Wednesday in Rupp Arena, SHCS will make its 18th appearance in the Sweet 16. It won titles in 1966 and 1978, had some other near misses and built a tradition that began with its first trip in the school's first year of existence.
And now from the same locker room that readied Mike Casey, Terry Davis, Jim Simons, Charles Hurt and A.J. Slaughter one more singular team will emerge to pursue a dream.
It will be one last hoorah as the one and only.
And the players feel it.
“I think what we do will be remembered for a long time by the community and everybody,” senior Donovan Johnson said. “We’re the last whole team. They’ll be talking about the team before the split. It’s a little more pressure.”
Coach Mike Clark, who also played for the Rockets from 1987 to 1991, knows it’s different.
“We won’t be the only game in town any more,” he said. “I’m very proud to be a part of this great tradition as a player and a coach.”
The players said they don’t really talk about it.
“We don’t talk much about it,” said senior Boomer Beckley, whose father, Norris, was a star on Shelby County's last state basketball champion. “There’s nothing we can do about, we can’t focus on that.”
But they don’t forget about it either.
“I think about it sometimes, the last ones,” Johnson said.
They can’t help but think about it. It’s the biggest topic in town, the one that sparked chatter on Facebook even as they were cutting down the nets in celebration of their regional championship.
Questions bounce around all over the county. The hottest topics are to which school kids will go next year and who’s going to coach them.
Administrators know it’s out there too.
Assistant principal Steve Coleman understands the traditions of Shelby County High School as well or better than anyone. Coleman graduated from SCHS in 1988, and he has been a teacher or administrator at the school since 2000.
“It’s going to be different because it won’t be the only show in town anymore,” he said. “The school will continue and the tradition will be here, but that’s been developed over the last 30 years.”
Of course, Coleman can’t ignore the benefits of change.
“I can see it from the outside as a former athlete and student,” he said. “But I’m in these crowded halls and class rooms every day.
“It’s going to be a much better situation for students. A lot of people think about the athletics first, but this is about more than athletics.”
Shelby County has been through transitions like this before.
When Shelby County High School opened in 1960, Shelbyville High School and Lincoln Institute still remained. Even when Shelbyville and SCHS merged in 1975, the parallels were there.
Many former players remain around and still follow the Rockets.
Lowell Ashby played on three consecutive SCHS teams that played in the Sweet 16 in 1968-1970, His brother Mark was on that 1978 team.
Ashby said folks around town can feel the end of an era, but that he notes that we’re also at the cusp of a new beginning.
“SCHS will continue,” he said. “It will be just as hard in the future to remember when Collins began as it is now to remember when Shelbyville High School merged with SCHS.
“SCHS has been a powerhouse school in many sports for many years, but since its formation in the 1960 with eight other [community] schools, its ability to make it to the state basketball tournament has always been expected each and every year.
"That will continue, and will probably be an expectation of Collins as well.”
It’s all SC now, but next year we’ll see MLC shirts, hats and stickers on cars.
So one last unified run begins Wednesday.
XXX Box XXXX
The Sweet 16 will tip-off Wednesday at noon in Lexington at Rupp Arena. The first game will pit Warren Central against East Carter, and the Rockets match-up against Ballard will follow at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets for the Shelby County game will be available for purchase starting Monday at 8 a.m. in the school’s lobby. The cost is $8 per ticket, or tickets can be purchased at the gate at Rupp Arena for $11. The school will also have spirit T-shirts available for $5.