High School Basketball

Mike Fields: It's time to move on, but I'm taking my memories with me

Retiring Herald Leader staff writer Mike Fields, who covered high school sports for decades, was honored Wednesday before the start of the Greenup County-Collins game at the state baseball tournament.
Retiring Herald Leader staff writer Mike Fields, who covered high school sports for decades, was honored Wednesday before the start of the Greenup County-Collins game at the state baseball tournament. Herald-Leader

After 41 years in the newspaper business, 41 years as a sportswriter, 41 years dictated by deadlines, it's time to shake up my life.

After I file my story on the state high school baseball championship Saturday night, I'll leave Whitaker Bank Ballpark as an old retired guy.

Yikes! I don't like the sound of that.

A rewrite:

I'll leave Whitaker Bank Ballpark as a 60-something who needs to dote on his grandkids, work on his golf game, get crackin' on his honey-do list, and find new ways to engage his brain.

In my heart, though, I'll always be a newspaper guy. (The ink-stained variety. Not the digital version.)

I've been with the Herald-Leader 351/2 years, and my job's been a joy: covering high school sports, primarily basketball, football and baseball. In my career I've worked about 4,000 games, preceded, of course, by, oh, say, 4,000 different renditions of the national anthem.

The numbers are numbing, but the memories still tingle the spine:

Paul Andrews hitting a half-court shot to win the 1982 Sweet Sixteen for Laurel County; Henry Clay out-gasping Carlisle County 35-33 in triple-overtime in the 1983 finals; East Carter's Kevin Bair swatting a walk-off two-run homer to beat Harrison County 10-9 in the 1984 state baseball finals; Dudley Hilton coaching Bourbon County to a most improbable football championship in 1997; the epic Brian Brohm-Michael Bush quarterback duel that ended with Trinity outlasting Male 59-56 in the 2002 Class 4A title game; Ken-Jah Bosley hitting a rainbow three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to give Madison Central a 65-64 victory over Ballard in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen finals.

I could name 100 more magical moments that I was lucky enough to witness up close and personal.

One of the best perks of the job was getting a sneak peek at greatness. I saw Rex Chapman, Tim Couch and Austin Kearns as high school kids before they blossomed into first-round NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball draft choices, respectively.

As time passes, the young faces (especially the one in the mirror) don't look so young anymore.

I watched Rod Drake play for Owensboro's Sweet Sixteen title team in 1980. I watched Rod Drake coach Owensboro to the Sweet Sixteen title this March.

I covered Brian Lane's baseball/basketball career at Tates Creek in the mid-1980s. Now he's the long-tenured hoops coach at Transylvania.

I remember interviewing a scrawny 5-foot-5 left-handed junior golfer from Covington Catholic after he won the Henry Clay Invitational in 1984. Steve Flesch went on to win four times on the PGA Tour and is now just two years away from playing on the PGA's senior tour.

Good grief.

I'd like to say that nothing's really changed in high school sports over the last four decades. I'm happy to report that, for the most part, kids are still kids, coaches are still coaches, and parents are still ... well, uh, parents have changed. And not for the better. Not all parents are overly involved in their kids' high school sports careers, but enough are that it's a problem. Their kids' personal accomplishments are more important than their teams' success. That me-first attitude corrupts the very core of sports.

Some parents also think having their kids specialize in one sport is the best way to stardom and that golden ticket to a Division I scholarship. Instead, it's often a ticket to injury or burn-out or disappointment.

And don't get me started on the fanatical obsession with recruiting. Let's just say I stubbornly give it one star.

Enough with the preaching.

I want to thank the Herald-Leader for making high school sports coverage a priority all these years. I want to thank all the athletes, coaches and administrators who have been so cooperative in letting me tell their stories. And I want to thank my wife, Denise, for understanding that a sportswriter's schedule is never really a "schedule."

I'm not sure what the future holds. That's what makes it exciting. I hope to continue writing, but about what and for whom, I don't know.

After this weekend, my Herald-Leader email will be deactivated. If you want to stay in touch, my email address is freeels@twc.com. For now, I'll also keep my Twitter account @MikeFieldsNotes.

Again, thanks for the memories.

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