Jean Flener has a system. In her 51 years of attending the boys’ Sweet Sixteen, Flener has used a set-in-stone approach to picking out the team she is going to root for.
She watches the first round, all eight games, with the intensity of a coach on a scouting trip.
“Then on Thursday night,” Bart Flener says of his mom, “she’ll always tell me, ‘All right, I’ve found the team I’m pulling for.’”
Yet for the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen, Jean Flener did not need to wait till the first round ended Thursday night to identify her team.
Having a son coaching and grandson playing in the tournament tends to clarify a person’s allegiances.
Murray, the 1st Region champion, ended 14th Region champ Buckhorn’s Cinderella season Wednesday afternoon in Rupp Arena with a 62-35 victory in the first game of the 2016 boys’ state tournament.
No one enjoyed seeing Murray (30-5) score its first Sweet Sixteen victory since 1977 more than the 85-year-old woman who always sits in section 16, row C, seats 3 and 4 for the state tournament.
Her son Bart is the Murray Tigers head coach.
Her grandson Zach is Murray’s backup point guard.
For a woman who saw her first Sweet Sixteen (1963) when Wes Unseld was starring at Seneca, who was in the stands for Paul Andrews’ half-court shot (1982) and here for Ken-Jah Bosley’s championship-winning jumper (2013), the first game of the 2016 state tourney brought a new emotional dynamic.
“Oh, I was nervous, I can’t say I wasn’t,” Jean Flener said. “I was shaking.”
She started bringing Bart to the boys’ Sweet Sixteen way back in 1979.
“We’d always come up on Tuesday night and check into the Hyatt (Regency, the hotel that adjoins Rupp Arena),” Bart Flener said. “Mom would lay out a line of snacks. And we’d never leave the (Lexington Civic Center) until the tournament was over.”
From the time Zach was 2, Jean used to hold him in her lap in Rupp and watch every Sweet Sixteen game.
“She’s been in 16 C forever,” Zach Flener said. “I remember that seat, that section, she’s always been there.”
A cheerleader at the old Morgantown High School (Butler County), Jean Flener has always loved sports. She gets so nervous during Kentucky Wildcats games, she can’t watch them live.
“Thank goodness for DVR,” Bart Flener said.
We’d always come up on Tuesday night and check into the Hyatt (Regency, the hotel that adjoins Rupp Arena). Mom would lay out a line of snacks. And we’d never leave the (Lexington Civic Center) until the tournament was over.
Murray coach Bart Flener, on his memories of coming to the Sweet Sixteen with his mother
Born in 1968, Bart Flener is “named for Bart Starr,” said the former Lexington Catholic and West Jessamine coach. “Mom’s a Green Bay Packers fan.”
Yet the Sweet Sixteen has long been a special sports passion of Jean Flener.
Her late husband, Lonus, was a pharmacist and couldn’t always take a week off for the high school basketball championships.
So Jean and a friend, Louise Stinson, used to come. Back in the day, they would sometimes ride to the tourney with Ralph Dorsey, who was an iconic 5th Region coaching figure at Caverna High School before becoming the school system’s superintendent.
“Mom’s a Sweet Sixteen addict,” Bart Flener says. “She just loves it.”
Across the years, 1980s Clay County star Richie Farmer was one of Jean’s state tournament favorites. “He just had a knack of making shots,” she said of the player who scored more career points (317) in state tourney play than anyone.
In recent times, Jean Flener liked the speed and aggression of Christian County star Anthony Hickey (2011 state tourney MVP) and the hard-nosed hustle of Madison Central standout Dominique Hawkins (2013 MVP).
On Wednesday, she watched Murray, up only 16-15 after one quarter, break open the game by holding Buckhorn to three points in the second period and seven in the third.
Her son was off the bench repeatedly, energetically shouting instructions as his team pulled away. “We’re not just happy to be here,” Bart Flener said of Murray’s mind-set. “We want to do some things.”
Jean Flener’s grandson played 16 minutes and had three assists, two turnovers and a steal. He missed his only two shots.
“I wasn’t shaking,” Zach said of playing in the tournament he had watched so often. “But that was the most nervous I’ve ever been.”
As for Jean Flener, across her 51 state tournaments, her most memorable moment had long been Andrews’ “Shot Heard Around Kentucky,” the last-second heave from behind the half-court stripe that gave Laurel County the 1982 state championship over North Hardin.
With the pride of a mother and grandmother, she says the first game of the 2016 Sweet Sixteen has supplanted the most famous shot in Kentucky high school hoops history on her memories list.
“This,” Jean Flener said, “is my very favorite in 51 years.”