With hundreds of games being played across dozens of sports, it was impossible to cover every fascinating player, team and story happening in high school athletics in 2017. We tried, though.
Below you’ll find links to the 10 feature stories I most enjoyed writing in 2017, along with a one-sentence synopsis and some behind-the-scenes tidbits about the formation of each story. The stories are listed chronologically by their original publication date.
Publication date: Jan. 10, 2017
Synopsis: A longtime Lexington referee has three sons who have gotten into the “family business.”
Behind the scenes: I interviewed Kenny Gant over dinner at The Ketch on Southland Drive. Terry Johnson, the athletic director at Lexington Christian Academy, was generous enough to allow the use of his school’s gym for a photo shoot. This story was one of the last times I got to work closely with Pablo Alcala, a photographer who has since left the Herald-Leader to teach at Frederick Douglass High School.
Publication date: Jan. 15, 2017
Synopsis: New and old interviews with those who participated in the 1956 boys’ basketball Sweet Sixteen.
Behind the scenes: This was part of our series of stories leading up to the 100th boys’ Sweet Sixteen. I’m a big fan of the “oral history” format and wanted to take a crack at it, and this felt like an appropriate subject to try it with. Billy Ray Lickert, who died in September, had celebrated his 78th birthday the day before I interviewed him and several others at Immanuel Baptist Church. I made an effort to get a new interview with Kelly Coleman but he’s an elusive figure. I spoke with Corky Withrow over the phone while I was in Bowling Green for the 2016 state football finals.
Publication date: Feb. 2, 2017
Synopsis: High school wrestler breaks his leg in August and returns to the wrestling mat by February.
Behind the scenes: One of Henry Clay’s assistant coaches, Casey Delong, graduated from Sheldon Clark High School the year after I did and was a big help in arranging an interview with Ray-Karl Irving, the subject of this story. This also was the last feature on which I got to work with Mark Cornelison, who left the Herald-Leader in February for a job at the University of Kentucky.
Publication date: March 9, 2017
Synopsis: One of the state’s best girls’ basketball players also is a star on the runway.
Behind the scenes: This was one of my most-read stories in 2017. I interviewed Rebecca Cook, the subject of this story, while she was doing sideline work for PrepSpin during the 11th Region boys’ basketball tournament in Richmond.
Publication date: Aug. 22, 2017
Synopsis: Getting in the game can be as rewarding as winning it.
Behind the scenes: Because of the sensitive nature of the kids’ medical conditions, this was the first (and so far, only) story that I showed to interview subjects before filing it. I originally did not speak with Ronald Dyer and his mother for the story because I intended to turn it around more quickly than I did. They were gracious with their time and met me at Raising Cane’s after a Lafayette football practice one day, and helped turn this into a much richer story.
Publication date: Oct. 2, 2017
Synopsis: What it’s like to experience the St. Xavier-Trinity game day for the first time.
Behind the scenes: There were not many great local matchups the week of the St. Xavier-Trinity game this year, and my editor and I agreed that this would be a fun angle from which to approach a rivalry we hadn’t touched in a while. Alex Slitz, who created a great video for the story, drove, and we were both starving on our way home from Louisville. We managed to find one of the few McDonald’s in the state without a 24-hour drive-thru, so we settled for Taco Bell.
Publication date: Oct. 19, 2017
Synopsis: Lexington girl was part of one of the year’s Hollywood cult hits.
Behind the scenes: My favorite stories to write are the ones that leave the playing field and talk about details and events involving the athletes I get to watch; this story encapsulates that perfectly. I interviewed Sophia Mitchell, this story’s subject, along with her parents at Panera Bread in the Palomar Center. I still haven’t got to see “Tragedy Girls,” but I want to.
Publication date: Oct. 12, 2017
Synopsis: A dentist becomes a high school volleyball coach because of his daughters’ interest.
Behind the scenes: I spoke with Bill Faulkner, the coach at the heart of this story, for about 40 minutes over the phone and it didn’t feel anywhere close to that long. A neat fact that didn’t make it into the story is that Faulkner films games for scouting and practice purposes, something he said is not done by many in high school volleyball circles.
Publication date: Nov. 16, 2017
Synopsis: One of the state’s best girls’ basketball coaches happens to also coach one of the state’s best football teams.
Behind the scenes: Joey Thacker, the title coach, is one of the funniest guys you’ll ever encounter. Before we went on the record he shared a story from his assistant coaching days in the mountains of eastern Kentucky; it had me in tears, but it’s NSFW.
Publication date: Dec. 12, 2017
Behind the scenes: My interviews with Billy Lange and Sekoe White were done via videophone on their end, which allowed for an American Sign Language interpreter to translate their signing into spoken words for me, and vice versa. Both interview subjects were male and the interpreters were female, and that was a little disjointing at first, but otherwise it was no different than interviews I’ve conducted over the phone with hearing people.