High school sports were being played in Kentucky long before Mike Fields started chronicling them for the Herald-Leader. But for 35 years he was the beginning and end of what was happening across fields and gymnasiums around the commonwealth. Chances are if you ever threw a game-winning pass, put up a triple-double or went on to to play your sport from anywhere including UPike to UK, Fields gave you your due in this same space I’m writing now.
Since I began covering high schools for the Herald-Leader, several folks involved in athletics have reached out to wish me well and send their regards to Fields. What better time than now to share some of those thoughts and memories?
Sam Simpson, Henry Clay football coach: “You were fair and honest and unlike most reporters, you never made it about you. Your words were pure and supportive. ... You helped make high school athletics important and meaningful to our community.”
John Dixon, Tates Creek athletic director: “On November 7, 1997, one of Mike Fields ‘Friday Field Notes’ included statistics about a quarterback at Cumberland High School, a small single ‘A’ high school of less than 400 students in rural, southeastern Kentucky. What did this show my small town about Mike? ... That unknown player was me — John Dixon. ... Thanks Mike for everything you did for all of us — your ‘Friday Fields Notes’ gave even the unknown players the opportunity to feel like the ‘Gods of Friday Night Football!’”
Mike Listerman, Holmes basketball coach: “The memory I remember the most was the day he told me he was going to be a grandfather. His face lit up as he was telling me. Very neat moment! Congratulations on your retirement — go ‘cover’ your family now like you did ours for so many years.”
Billy Hicks, Scott County basketball coach: “Mike was great in dealing with me as a young coach. As any young coach I had trouble saying what I was attempting to say. Mike always picked up on this and got it correct. His words were a lot better than mine, I would read it and say ‘yes that was what I meant to say.’ He treated me the same as a rookie as he did when I became a veteran. I will always appreciate how he treated my players, especially my son, Tyler.”
Damon Kelley, West Jessamine basketball coach: “My dad, Bob Kelley, worked with Mike at the Evansville Sunday Courier and Press in the mid-to-late 1970s. My dad covered Indiana prep sports while Mike covered Kentucky prep sports. Although we moved to southern Illinois and Mike to Lexington, our families stayed in touch over the years. When I came to UK as a student in 1994 it was Mike who recommended I contact Donnie Adkins at Lafayette to see if he could use a young, unproven, volunteer assistant coach. Twenty-one years later I am still coaching and cannot imagine what might have happened to my professional and personal life had Mike not steered me in the right direction.”
Chuck Smith, Boyle County football coach: “I don’t know if there has ever been a player or coach that has done more for high school football in Central Kentucky than Mike Fields.”
Mike Bowlin, East Jessamine football coach: “I remember being in high school and eating breakfast with my dad every morning. He’d read the newspaper while I glanced at the TV. After he was done he’d always toss me the sports page and point to an article that Mike Fields had written. I would quickly find myself lost reading an article about high school sports. I thought it was bigger than Sports Illustrated or ESPN. If you made it into a Mike Fields article in the Lexington Herald you had arrived.”
Many thanks to the countless coaches and ADs who took time to share their stories. And thank you, Mike, for giving your all to high school athletes for so long.
Lexington Christian’s football season ended earlier than it would have liked, but the future appears blindingly bright for the Eagles.
They’ll lose standout lineman Clay Ach to graduation but will return the bulk of their offense the next two seasons, courtesy of a deep class of sophomores who won a middle school state championship a few years ago. Dillon Wheatley finished the year with 2,149 rushing yards and 32 TDs while Ryan Stucky reeled in 75 catches for 1,225 yards and nine TDs. LCA will bring back two capable quarterbacks — Brayden Miller (2,373 yards passing, 22 TDs) and Logan Nieves (304 yards, four TDs in an injury-shortened season) — as well as two defenders with more than 100 tackles in Wade Drake and junior Brett Wilkins.
▪ Left for dead after an uncharacteristically terrible start to the season, the once 1-5 Highlands Bluebirds have won seven straight. They earned their 15th straight win over Covington Catholic, a streak that dates back to 2007. Nick Kendall had 222 yards and three TDs in the latest Bluebirds victory while Central Michigan commitment Austin Hergott threw for 168 yards and two TDs, both to Eric Miller (who finished with 124 yards).
▪ After six years of existence — the first five spent in Class 3A — South Warren is again vying for a title-game berth. The Spartans, who in consecutive years are 13-0 entering the penultimate round, reached their first state semifinal last season. They fell to Central, 16-14.
This year they meet Shelby County, which hasn’t been to the state championship game since 1993 (the Rockets are 1-3 all-time in the finals).
▪ Despite a torrent of success at Sheldon Clark and Johnson Central, coach Jim Matney has never reached a state championship game. That would change if the Golden Eagles, who are in their first semifinal since 2006, win against Wayne County on Friday. Johnson Central is in its first semifinal since 2006.
The Cards made their only trip in 2013, when they fell 3-0 to Belfry (where Matney played in the ’70s) in the lowest-scoring finals game since 1997.
Zip Zone Classic
The annual preseason event hosted by Sheldon Clark always brings some top-flight basketball teams to eastern Kentucky, and this year’s slate Saturday is no different. For the third year it will be played at Lawrence County rather than at Sheldon Clark because the school’s current gymnasium is not of sufficient size to support the event.
The high school’s previous building was shuttered in 2013. Martin County is using the Inez Middle School building as its high school until a new school is built. Sheldon Clark Athletic Director Robin Newsome is grateful that Lawrence County is generous enough to allow the use of its gym free of charge.
“Of course it’s not home,” Newsome said in an email. “I hurt deeply for the Martin County students, fans, community and all involved ... but we could not ask for better hospitality from the Lawrence County Board of Education and administration. We have worked closely to keep the tradition of this event alive.”
Virginia Episcopal, headed by University of Kentucky pledge Sacha Killeya-Jones, takes on Huntington Prep (which features Michigan State commitment Miles Bridges, Indiana commitment Curtis Jones and several other Division I athletes) in the prime-time game at 7 p.m. Other highlights include:
10:40 a.m.: Of local interest, the Bryan Station girls — picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the 11th Region but with a confident group out to best their ranking — takes on 15th Region favorite Johnson Central. Destiny Cozart returns for the Defenders after missing last year with an injury.
2 p.m.: Trinity, a perennial 7th Region contender, battles Cordia, which is still barred from postseason play but features Oumar Keita, a 6-10 center considered one of the top sophomores in Kentucky.
5:20 p.m.: 15th Region favorite Lawrence County, paced by brothers Timmy and Robert Dalton and who feature five 1,000-point scorers, take on Christian County. Jaylen Sebree is a rising junior for the Colonels, who are expected to challenge Hopkinsville in the 2nd Region. Christian head coach Frankie Smith led Sheldon Clark’s boys’ team for the previous three seasons.
Other games: Pikeville vs. June Buchanan, 9 a.m.; Sheldon Clark girls vs. Tug Valley (W.Va.), 12:20 p.m.; Johnson Central vs. Capital (W.Va.), 3:40 p.m.; Sheldon Clark vs. Hazard, 8:40 p.m.
Tickets are $7 for the event.
Other boys’ preseason events
▪ Can’t make it to Louisa? Huntington Prep will be coming to central Kentucky to play Tennessee Prep at Berea College at 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for the game, hosted by the Madison Southern basketball program, are $8.
▪ Here’s the schedule for the G.J. Smith Showcase at South Laurel on Saturday, in which two Lexington teams are competing: Powell County vs. East Jessamine, noon; Harlan County vs. Montgomery County, 1:30 p.m.; North Laurel vs. Graves County, 3; Perry County Central vs. Madison Central, 4:30; Lexington Christian vs. Whitley County, 6; Henry Clay vs. South Laurel, 7:30; Clay County vs. Southwestern, 9. Tickets are $5 for the day.
▪ Lexington Christian volleyball coach Teresa Ford announced her resignation at the team’s season-ending banquet last week.
Former LCA and Eastern Kentucky University player Kirby Willoughby was named the new head coach.
“I have been thinking and praying about this for some time and I just felt it was time to take a step back and turn the reins over,” said Ford, who shared in a statement that spending more time with her family was a big factor in the decision.
Ford won 166 games over her 10 years as the program’s second coach. Willoughby was an assistant the previous two seasons.
“This school has meant so much to me and my life,” Willoughby said. “I want to continue building a top program that focuses on the girls and their development.”
▪ Jay Johnson, who was a Kentucky All-Star team selection in 2012 after averaging 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds for Woodford County, is transferring to Kentucky Wesleyan and will be eligible for the 2016-17 season. He averaged 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds as a junior at Marshall last season.
▪ Mercer County girls’ basketball coach Chris Souder is seeking a team to fill an open spot in the team’s annual Titan Holiday Classic from Dec. 27-30. ... Derrick Newsome, the girls’ basketball coach at Pike County Central, is looking to add a team to his schedule on Jan. 2 due to a late cancellation.
We asked you to pick winners in the 12 state semifinals via Twitter. Your lock of the week? Bowling Green over Fern Creek. Here are the full results:
Pikeville at Paintsville: 56% chose Paintsville
Beechwood at Russellville: 74% chose Beechwood
DeSales at Mayfield: 76% chose Mayfield
Danville at Newport Central Catholic: 69% chose Danville
Corbin at Belfry: 80% chose Belfry
Lexington Catholic at Elizabethtown: 77% chose LexCath
Shelby County at South Warren: 67% chose South Warren
Johnson Central at Wayne County: 53% chose Wayne County
Fern Creek at Bowling Green: 90% chose Bowling Green
Pulaski County at Highlands: 74% chose Pulaski County
Male at Central Hardin: 89% chose Male
Lafayette at Simon Kenton: 79% chose Lafayette
Class A: Beechwood 73.9, Pikeville 71.8, Paintsville 68.9, Russellville 56.3
Class 2A: Mayfield 81.6, DeSales 78.7, Danville 77.7, Newport Central Catholic 64.6
Class 3A: Lexington Catholic 82.8, Belfry 82.1, Elizabethtown 80.1, Corbin 61.9
Class 4A: South Warren 82.5, Shelby County 80.8, Johnson Central 76.5, Wayne County 65.2
Class 5A: Bowling Green 88.8, Pulaski County 83.5, Highlands 81.1, Fern Creek 78.4
Class 6A: Male 96.1, Simon Kenton 91.2, Lafayette 84.7, Central Hardin 80.6
Friday’s playoff schedule
All times p.m. and local to site
Pikeville at Paintsville, 7:30
Beechwood at Russellville, 7
DeSales at Mayfield, 7
Danville vs. Newport Central Catholic (at Newport), 7
Corbin at Belfry, 7:30
Lexington Catholic at Elizabethtown, 7:30
Shelby County at South Warren, 7
Johnson Central at Wayne County, 7:30
Fern Creek at Bowling Green, 7
Pulaski County at Highlands, 3
Male at Central Hardin, 7:30
Lafayette at Simon Kenton, 7:30