On Jan. 24, Scott County boys’ basketball coach Billy Hicks logged his 1,000th win, making him the first Kentucky High School Athletic Association coach in Kentucky history to reach this mark.
Why is it important to celebrate Coach Hicks’ milestone? Moreover, why is sports history important? I recently spoke with Hicks at the unveiling of the latest Kentucky Historical Society HistoryMobile exhibit, which celebrates 100 years of Kentucky high school basketball. Housed in a semi-trailer, the HistoryMobile will travel the state for the next three years to share how this sport has positively affected Kentuckians’ lives. Hicks embodies this lesson.
“I grew up in Harlan County and it was something we lived for,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to go to college, like it did for a lot of people.”
Hicks attended Wofford College in South Carolina on a basketball scholarship before coaching at Evarts High School in Harlan County. He then coached at Harlan County High School and Corbin before becoming Scott County’s coach in 1994.
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Dr. Duane Bolin, author of the forthcoming book Adolph Rupp and the Rise of Kentucky Basketball, sees a broader lesson from Hicks’s accomplishment.
“Sports history in America is a mirror of American history,” Bolin said. “The same traits that Billy Hicks used to establish success at Scott County High School can be seen in other successful men and women in other fields of American society throughout American history—organization, discipline, patience and determination.”
Geri Grigsby, a member of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame and a prominent figure in the HistoryMobile exhibit, is another example of how basketball can change lives.
During three seasons playing basketball for McDowell High School, she scored a staggering 4,385 points, which was done before the three-point shot was part of the game. According to the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame, she set state and national records by having a 49.8-point scoring average as a senior and by scoring 81 points in a single game as a junior.
Grisgby recognizes that basketball helped her break barriers. “I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to play basketball as a young female,” she said. “I hope that young girls and women continue to appreciate those in history who fought for equal opportunities for women in American life, including Title IX.”
Hall of Famer Kenny Davis, who was captain of the U.S. National Basketball Team during the 1972 Olympics, also believes that sports helps us overcome obstacles.
“In some cases barriers in sports came down before America itself cast them aside,” Davis said. “Sports taught us if we became a country of ‘all people’ . . . it would make our society a better place for all to live, work and play.”
Ken Trivette, executive secretary of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame, believes that Hicks’ story can serve as an inspiration for fellow Kentuckians.
“We as a society are emboldened by stories such as Bill Hicks’ journey to reach such a monumental level of achievement,” he said.
Hicks, however, recognizes that his historic win happened thanks to a larger community. As he told one reporter, “It’s an award that belongs to everybody that has been a part of my life.”
This is why Coach Hicks’s 1,000th win is important: It inspires us, brings us together to celebrate and gives us a stronger sense of our state’s identity. It also reminds us to look at the successes of other Kentuckians—like Hall of Famers Geri Grigsby and Kenny Davis—who reached important milestones of their own.
And that makes Hicks’s victory important to commemorate. As he noted, it belongs to everybody.
His victory is our victory.
Stuart W. Sanders is the Kentucky Historical Society’s History Advocate.