For obvious reasons, one team left the court Friday at Anderson County High School with more reason to smile than the other.
But players from both teams — along with their coaches — deserved to leave the court with their heads held high. All involved represented Scott County well.
Prior to the start of Friday's game between Scott and Oneida, a fan from Clinton who had no rooting interest in the game itself asked, "Do you think it will get ugly tonight?" Another joked that extra law enforcement officers might need to be called in — there were two stationed at the side of the court, typical for a high school game — for security purposes.
Instead, Friday's game was as clean as one could've hoped for . . . and then some. From an impromptu meeting at mid-court prior to the start of the game to the post-game handshake, the evening was a showcase for sportsmanship, and both teams handled themselves with pure class. And, in the stands, where several hundred Scott Countians gathered after making the 45-minute drive to Clinton, the atmosphere was just as clean as it was on the court. Even the student sections checked their emotions.
Perhaps none of that should've been noteworthy. Scott County is, after all, more closely-knit than many counties, even rural counties like this one. Oneida and Huntsville are more intricately twined together than most neighboring towns. For the most part, the players on the court Friday knew one another. The coaches are familiar with one another; Oneida coach Rusty Yaden played high school ball at Scott, and Scott assistant Chuck Jeffers played high school ball at Oneida. The fans in the stands work with one another, go to church with one another, and in far more than one case, share different team allegiances within the same family.
But there are always those stories of why Scott and Oneida stopped playing back in the day; stories of brawls and shouting matches . . . stories that have been somewhat exaggerated and hyperbolized over the years but stories that at the same time aren't completely inaccurate.
Friday's game, though, was nothing of the sort. There was not so much as a cross word spoken on the court between players. There were no hard fouls. And in a high-stakes rivalry game, that in itself is actually quite remarkable. While Friday's game was pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of district seeding and post-season positioning, it was still an important game to players from both teams. Bragging rights were on the line, and players from either team treated it as the single most important game of the season thus far. No doubt the coaches from either side instructed their players on how to react before, during and after the game, and no doubt their players took heed. Their actions on the court were a credit to themselves and to their coaches alike.
Which leads to a question. Most seem to agree that it is way too soon for Scott and Oneida to renew their old football rivalry. If it ever happens again — and that's a big if — it's still years away from happening, most say. And that's okay. There are plenty of reasons why the two schools shouldn't renew their football rivalry, actually. But in basketball, which is generally met in Scott County and throughout the South with a bit more of a laid-back atmosphere, is it time to reexamine an annual meeting — or two — between the two schools?
While the crowd at Friday's game was probably smaller than tournament organizers would have hoped for, it was still easily the largest crowd of the three-day event. In fact, the hometown Anderson County Mavericks had played two games just prior to the Scott-Oneida game and attendance was not even a fraction of what it was for the latter game. Holiday tournaments, although designed to make money for the schools hosting them, are generally poorly attended . . . especially on a weekend night just a few days before Christmas, when most folks have other priorities on their mind. If hundreds of Scott Countians would make the drive from Oneida and Huntsville to Clinton for a game between the two schools, how many would pay to attend a game locally? Let's rephrase that: Would either school's gym be large enough to fit in everybody who wanted to be there?
After a few years of meeting on a regular basis, the novelty would wear off and attendance would stabilize. But it probably goes without saying that those games would still produce the largest gate receipts of the season for either school. Not only is it a good money-maker for the teams and schools (and in this day and age of budget cuts, what school doesn't need money?) but it also provides another non-district game (or two) for the teams . . . removing the need to drive an hour or more on a school night to play a game.
The coaches I've spoken with have indicated that they wouldn't mind seeing it happen. And last night's game was proof that the players love the idea.
So, is it feasible? Can it happen without a big ruckus? Without a free-for-all in the stands? The game Friday — like a similar tournament matchup between the teams eight years ago in McCreary County — suggests that it can. And if it can be done on other teams' courts, in Clinton and Stearns, where their schools are making the money, why not do it on our courts, where we make the money?
For years, we've told ourselves that these two teams can't play because the players can't handle it . . . because the fans can't handle it. Friday's game suggests we aren't giving the players or their parents — and aunts and uncles, school alumni, and others in attendance — enough credit. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to put a little more trust in the kids, and in the adults who cheer them on.
It seems to be an idea whose time has come.