Stan Lovett is loving retirement these days.
Since retiring as a full-time teacher in the Fayette County school system in 1992, Lovett has been the radio voice of Williamsburg, his alma mater. He's reveling in describing these glory days for Yellow Jackets' athletics. The tiny school in Whitley County was state runner-up in Class A football last fall. It made it to the All "A" Classic small-school state basketball tournament in late January. And it beat perennial power Clay County in the 13th Region finals this week to earn a trip to Rupp Arena for the state tournament.
Lovett, 72, didn't try to contain his excitement as he described for his radio audience Williamsburg's first region title since 1946. He ramped up the decibel level when he counted down the final seconds and celebrated the victory over Clay County: "Jackets win! Jackets win! Jackets win! Jackets win! Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 Region 13 champions are clad in Big Orange, Big White and Big Black — where have I heard that before?" (He used the same line when the Jackets won the football region last fall). "For the first time since 1946, the 13th regional banner is flying over Williamsburg. The Big Orange are going to the big dance."
Lovett apologized afterward on press row in Corbin Arena for getting carried away, but he didn't need to. Unvarnished enthusiasm has always been Lovett's style, even when he called junior high games in Lexington with Dick Simpson in the early 1980s for the local educational TV channel. Add to the mix that Lovett played basketball and football for Williamsburg in the early 1960s, and he should be forgiven for being emotionally invested in the Jackets' success. Especially after all the failure he has witnessed over the past two decades.
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"If we won two ball games in football back in the 1990s, we were lucky," he said. "And basketball was atrocious."
Like most small schools, Williamsburg, with an enrollment of a little more than 200 students, has occasional cycles of athletic talent. Lovett saw it coming when the current seniors were in middle school. They've delivered on their potential under Coach Patrick Robinson. Skyler Griffith (whom Lovett thinks might be the best athlete in school history), Corey Shelton and Chase Lowrie doubled as football and basketball standouts. Junior Andrew Griffith, Skyler's brother, is a force inside. So is Fred Massey, a senior transfer from Harlan County.
"It was one of those situations where if everything fell into place, you knew it could happen," Lovett said. "Most of the time they don't, but everything fell into place in football, and we came within a hair of winning that thing. (Williamsburg lost to Mayfield 28-27 in overtime).
"Now everything has fallen into place in basketball. To have these kind of kids really just blows your mind. It's one of those times you live and just enjoy it because it probably won't happen again. I never thought I'd have a chance to do a game in Rupp Arena." Lovett and Rick Campbell will broadcast coverage of the Jackets in the Sweet Sixteen for WEZJ-FM and WEKX-FM.
■ Justin Graham, a multi-sport athlete and a 4.0 student at Rowan County, is the 2015 winner of the "Wah Wah" Jones Award. He will be recognized at the Mr. and Miss Basketball banquet on March 17, the night before the boys' Sweet Sixteen begins. The award goes to a multi-sport male student-athlete who also shows leadership, respect and is a positive teammate. Graham played football as a freshman and sophomore, played soccer and ran track as a junior and senior, and played basketball all four years. He was selected Mr. Rowan County by the school's faculty and administration.
■ Two nights after Peyton Woods hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Wayne County a 61-58 victory over West Jessamine, his career with the Cardinals came to an end with their loss to Boyle County in the 12th Region semifinals. Woods' 2,467 points were second most in school history, behind Gavin Dunagan's 2,818. Wayne County Coach Rodney Woods, Peyton's dad, joked that he took his son out of games just enough so he wouldn't top the 2,484 points Rodney had in his high school career at Lone Jack. Peyton was a three-point shooting star for the Cards. He made 362 of 901, both numbers third most in state history, although Rodney thinks Knott Central's Camron Justice might eclipse Peyton's numbers. Wayne County wasn't at full strength for the region. Peyton and junior standout Corey Stearns both had shoulder problems. "It was a tough way to go out," Rodney said. "But I've been blessed because in 38 years, that's the first time I've had key players injured at tournament time, so I sure can't complain."
■ Johnson Central beat Lawrence County to become only the third boys' team to win the 15th Region title four years in a row. Paintsville won four in a row in 1995-98, and Inez in 1934-37. Tommy McKenzie has coached Johnson Central to five titles in eight years. The Golden Eagles have nine titles overall, tying them with Inez, Paintsville and Pikeville for the most in the 15th.
■ Calloway County Coach Terry Birdsong will always remember his 400th career victory. It came with the Lakers' victory over Murray in the 1st Region finals Wednesday night.
■ When Franklin County's girls won the 11th Region championship, Coach Joey Thacker was overcome with emotion when talking about his wife, Matosha, and how she's been the family's rock while battling colorectal cancer for two years (she's cancer-free now) and raising their daughters, Josie (a freshman on the basketball team), Gracie and Kelsie.
"She's tougher than I am," Thacker said. "And this team kind of took on her resilience. She's one of a kind. She's my hero."
■ When Oldham County thrashed Collins 68-43 on Jan. 20, it was the most lopsided loss in the five-year history of the Titans' program.
The headline on The Oldham Era sports page the next day: Colonels cream Collins. Seven weeks later, that headline and accompanying story were in the hands of the Collins players as they got ready to play Oldham County in the 8th Region finals. Titans Coach Chris Gaither wanted to remind his team they had a score to settle. They settled it by upsetting Oldham County 53-41 Tuesday night at Henry County, earning a trip to Rupp Arena. Collins, which opened in 2010 in Shelby County, lost to Oldham County in the region finals in 2011. The past two years the Titans lost in overtime to eventual champ South Oldham, in the first round in 2013 and in the semifinals in 2014. "This year things went our way," Gaither said. Collins plays Owensboro in the first round of the state tournament next week.
■ After Lexington Catholic thumped Henry Clay in the boys' 11th Region semifinals, Knights Coach Brandon Salsman said he wouldn't trade his team for the Los Angeles Lakers. Twenty-four hours later, after Lexington Catholic beat Bryan Station in the region finals, Salsman, upgraded the NBA comparison to his team. "I wouldn't trade them for the Cavaliers, LeBron too," he quipped.
■ Whitley County girls' coach Donnie Jones stepped down after two years and a 44-19 record. David Estes, an assistant the past two years, will take over for Jones.
■ Omar Prewitt (Montgomery County) had a career-high 33 points in William and Mary's 92-91 win over Hofstra in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Conference Tournament. The Tribe lost to Northeastern in the finals, but still finished with back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in 64 years. Prewitt, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, averaged 13.4 points and 4.2 rebounds a game this season. He averaged 11.4 and 4.6 as a freshman. Jack Whitman (Lexington Catholic), a 6-9 redshirt freshman, averaged 12 minutes, 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds for William and Mary.
■ The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches will host the East-West girls' all-star game Saturday at 2 p.m. at Warren Central. Each of the 16 regions will be represented by two seniors selected by the coaches. Lafayette's Dee Givens and Ashanti Thomas will be there for the 11th Region; Clark County's Sandra Skinner and Bourbon County's Asia Sims for the 10th; Danville's Cameron McPherson and Southwestern's Adison Corder for the 12th; Bell County's Maci Morris and Clay County's Ajaycia Cotton for the 13th; Leslie County's Katie Moore and Letcher Central's Cheyanne Stidham for the 14th; Sheldon Clark's Kelsey Garcia and Paintsville's Kerrigan Samons for the 15th; Ashland Blazer's Alexis Robinson and Boyd County's Logan Fraley for the 16th.
■ An ESPN camera crew followed Lexington Catholic freshman Adam Bender as he competed in the KHSAA State Wrestling Tournament this week. ESPN is doing a follow-up on the feature it did on Bender in 2008. That film, part of the E:60 series, was titled Power of One.
Bender lost his left leg to cancer when he was 1, but that hasn't kept him from playing and competing in athletics.