By Bill Robinson
Two months may have passed, but Madison County continues to celebrate the state basketball championship won by the Madison Central boys team.
Team members were presented championship rings while their cheerleaders received pendants Saturday morning during a breakfast at the Telford YMCA attended by nearly 300.
A string of elected officials, from Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes to U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Sixth District, sang the praises of the team that won the state title in a series of come-from-behind games.
The score boards in the YMCA gym, where the breakfast took place, displayed the 65-64 outcome of the championship game over Ballard High School of Louisville.
The achievement will never be forgotten, said Barnes, who proclaimed May as Madison Central Indians Month and Saturday as Dominique Hawkins Day.
Hawkins has signed to play for the University of Kentucky.
The young players may not completely understand what their state championship means to the community, but they will as they grow older, the mayor said.
“Madison County will never be the same,” Barnes said.
In addition to praising the players for their victory, practically every speaker said the way they had won also was a point of pride.
Never giving up in the face of adversity, despite falling behind nearly 20 points at times, had inspired their fans, even UK Coach John Calipari, said Central Coach Allen Feldhaus.
When the high school team was invited to watch a UK practice, Calipari told them they had inspired him to be a better coach. He told his players they could benefit by following the Central team example, Feldhaus said.
Feldhaus said the players had believed in themselves, their coaches and their system of “hard work, toughness and defense.” Those qualities don’t appeal to all young players, their coach noted, but with them Madison Central had won a state championship.
State Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, who was a basketball star for in-county rival Madison Southern, said he wasn’t accustomed to cheering for the Central team but was proud to do so, especially because of how the players had conducted themselves on and off the court.
State Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, read from the proclamation she and Carpenter had sponsored in the General Assembly.
Judge/Executive Kent Clark said the Madison Central victory had helped unify the county in ways few other events could because everyone took pride in the team’s achievement.
Barr told Hawkins his team had beaten a very good team from Louisville and hoped he would continue to beat good Louisville teams during his college career. The congressman read from a resolution he introduced into the Congressional Record.
MCHS Principal Elmer Thomas said he and Feldhaus had both said they wanted to provide championship rings for the players but didn’t know how they would pay for them.
After meeting with the coach, the principal returned to his office and found a voice mail from interim YMCA Director Mike Haynes. The YMCA had sponsors who wanted to provide the players and coaches with rings, Haynes told him.
Honoring the players at the YMCA was appropriate for two reasons, said Jerry Gilbert, who chairs the Telford YMCA board. The game of basketball was invented by a YMCA director, Dr. James Naismith. And, many of the central players got their start in organized basketball by playing for a YMCA youth team in the very gym where they were recognized Saturday.
Darrell Wells, who has not missed a Boys Sweet 16 state tournament in 63 years, was presented a ball signed by all the players and coaches after their victory. Only a few weeks later, however, the ball was lost when Wells’ was destroyed by fire. He was present for the breakfast and was presented a replacement basketball by Hawkins on behalf of the team.
Another signed basketball was auctioned at the breakfast’s conclusion.
Berea City Council member Virgil Burnside won the ball with a $1,000 bid, surpassing bids by Barnes, among others.
His bid was contingent on incoming YMCA director Dave Wallace beginning an outreach program in Berea, Burnside said. He had met Wallace when the Y director was a Berea College student.
Wallace said he agreed with Burnside that YMCA programs should be expanded to serve the entire county, just as the Central victory had inspired all its residents.
As Burnside was being interviewed, Barnes playfully stole the basketball from Burnside’s hands and darted away. He quickly returned it, however, congratulating Burnside, commending him for the gesture and for encouraging the YMCA to expand its outreach.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.