High School Football

Lexington not the only winner as state football finals make move to UK

Belfry’s Derek Wellman ran in a touchdown in the first half. The Lexington Catholic Knights played the Belfry Pirates in the Class 3A Championship in Bowling Green in 2015. Belfry alone racked up 288 travel miles to play in the title game.
Belfry’s Derek Wellman ran in a touchdown in the first half. The Lexington Catholic Knights played the Belfry Pirates in the Class 3A Championship in Bowling Green in 2015. Belfry alone racked up 288 travel miles to play in the title game.

It should surprise no one that Lexington high school football coaches are thrilled about the state finals moving to the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field.

Lafayette Coach Eric Shaw, whose program became the first in Fayette County history to play in back-to-back championship games in 2015 and 2016, can see the new finals site from the press box of the Generals’ James Ishmael Stadium. That’s a much quicker drive than the 2  1/2 -hour haul to Bowling Green his team made the last two seasons.

Western Kentucky was a great host, Shaw said, but you can’t beat a 3-mile drive.

“I’m under the impression that this move to UK and Lexington will benefit more teams than in the past,” said Shaw, who admitted that he’s not as geographically savvy being from Florida. “ … If it was here the last couple of years, it would have been a big thing for us cause we would have had the whole city of Lexington behind us. And that’s the way it’s gonna be now, whoever makes it from the city, at least for the next two years.”

Using Google Maps, the total combined distance driven for every 2016 finals participant from its school building to Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium was about 1,750 miles. Had the same schools driven to Lexington for the finals last season, the distance covered would have been about 1,140 miles, with the only two schools seeing an increase in travel being Bowling Green and Franklin-Simpson, which are near WKU’s campus.

I think Lexington’s gonna make a push to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s gonna benefit this city, it’s gonna benefit the high schools, it’s gonna benefit everybody.

Eric Shaw, Lafayette head coach

Mileage numbers over the last five seasons show that Lexington would have been a faster trip for the majority of finals teams to make than was Bowling Green. In all five seasons, the difference between actual distance traveled and hypothetical distance traveled was at least 300 miles.

It would be difficult to strip UK of the games after its two-year commitment if cost of travel is as important as schools often contend. Of course, fan turnout and sponsorship support are vital factors as well. Shaw doesn’t think it’ll be hard to rally support around town.

“I think Lexington’s gonna make a push to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere,” Shaw said. “It’s gonna benefit this city, it’s gonna benefit the high schools, it’s gonna benefit everybody. … It will raise energy in the city knowing that if you’re fortunate enough to make it there, you don’t have to go far from it. Playing in front of family and friends is a big benefit. It will be motivating factor.”

In addition to echoing Shaw’s comments about having the opportunity to play close to home, Frederick Douglass Coach Brian Landis said it’s great for Kentucky high school football to be “moving to one of the nicest facilities in the country.”

Mark Perry, Lexington Catholic’s head coach, loves that his college alma mater has shown increasing commitment to high school football in the state.

“A lot of kids dream of being a Wildcat and playing in that stadium, so to have the finals here and it centrally located, I think it makes a ton of sense,” Perry said. “ … Coach (Mark) Stoops, Mitch Barnhart, those guys did a really good job of putting the right package together to make that all work out.”

Scott County, the only school in the area to have won the big-school title in the last 25 years, will be in the championship conversation in 2017. Coach Jim McKee has heard nothing but “super positive feedback” from fans, families and players regarding the move to Kroger Field.

His goals remain unchanged.

“My focus is doing everything we can to make our school’s fifth appearance in the finals whether it’s played on Mars or at UK,” McKee said via text message.

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps

State football distance traveled

The chart below includes real mileage figures (travel to WKU’s Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium, rounded) for the state football finalists since 2012 along with hypothetical mileage traveled to Kroger Field by the same finalists in the same years. Mileage was tabulated using Google Maps.

2016 real

2016 hypo

2015 real

2015 hypo

2014 real

2014 hypo

2013 real

2013 hypo

2012 real

2012 hypo

Beechwood

208

80

208

80

x

x

x

x

x

x

Belfry

288

163

288

163

288

163

288

163

288

163

Bowling Green

3

173

3

173

x

x

3

173

3

173

Caldwell County

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

104

211

Central (Louisville)

114

80

x

x

114

80

x

x

114

80

Christian Academy (Louisville)

132

67

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Cooper

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

201

75

Danville

121

34

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

DeSales

x

x

x

109

82

109

82

x

x

Dixie Heights

x

x

x

x

206

78

x

x

x

x

Fairview

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

272

119

Franklin-Simpson

22

154

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Graves County

x

x

x

x

159

266

x

x

x

x

Hazard

204

116

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Highlands

217

89

217

89

217

89

Johnson Central

268

115

268

115

x

x

x

x

x

x

Lafayette

153

3

153

3

x

x

x

x

x

x

Lexington Catholic

x

x

153

3

x

x

x

x

x

x

M.L. Collins

x

x

x

x

x

x

133

54

133

54

Male

x

x

108

78

x

x

x

x

x

x

Mayfield

x

x

159

266

159

266

159

266

159

266

Meade County

x

x

x

x

x

x

86

115

x

x

Newport C.C.

x

x

217

89

217

89

217

89

217

89

Owensboro

x

x

x

x

70

177

x

x

x

x

Pikeville

x

x

265

141

x

x

x

x

x

x

PRP

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

119

87

Pulaski County

112

78

112

78

112

78

112

78

x

x

Scott County

x

x

x

x

x

x

161

20

x

x

South Warren

x

x

8

162

x

x

x

x

x

x

Trinity

120

75

x

x

120

75

x

x

120

75

Wayne County

x

x

x

x

x

x

104

104

x

x

Williamsburg

x

x

x

x

239

111

239

111

x

x

Total Distance

1745

1138

1942

1351

2010

1554

1540

1181

1659

1318

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