A night to remember

It was the night of March 4, 1966.  The Clark County High School gym­na­si­um was packed—filled to capac­i­ty.  The Mt. Sterling Trojans had come over to play the Clark County Cardinals in the first game of the dis­trict tour­na­ment.  I was attend­ing UK then, but still a rabid fan of my alma mater.  My friends and I had come to Winchester to watch the Trojans’ super seniors:  Henry Owens, Mike Cooper, Curt Steger, Mason Kash, and Leonard Guy.

Coach Jim McAfee’s Trojans had fin­ished that sea­son with a 21–5 record, while Lewis Snowden’s Cardinals had gone 14–10.  But you could throw out the records when­ev­er these two schools met.  Over the years the fierce rival­ry between the two schools had only inten­si­fied.  Everyone there that night expect­ed it to be a nip and tuck bat­tle to the finish. 

The game played out true to form with the advan­tage going back and forth.  Clark County drew first blood when Donnie McNabb hit a jumper and the Cardinals led 14–11 after the first peri­od.  The Trojans fought back to take the lead at half­time, 31–25. 

Clark County retook the lead at the end of the third quar­ter 43–41.  The Cardinals were ahead by 3 points with 2:23 remain­ing in the con­test.  The teams trad­ed bas­kets before Curt Steger made a shot, tying the score at 55–55 with 31 sec­onds left.  Both teams missed their final shots, and the game went into overtime.

Throughout the con­test, the fans screamed in sup­port of their home teams.  During over­time the roar was con­stant and deaf­en­ing.  The peri­od began with Steger and Wayne Keene trad­ing bas­kets.  John Sewell hit a pair of free throws for Clark County and Henry Owens matched them for Mt. Sterling, and it was 59–59 with 1:07 to go.  Sewell went to the line and hit one out of two.  Then Cooper con­nect­ed on two free throws to put Mt. Sterling ahead 61–60 with only nine sec­onds left on the clock.

What hap­pened next was per­ceived dif­fer­ent­ly by the par­ti­san fans.  Since I was a diehard Trojan, it’s prob­a­bly best to tell the sto­ry of those last nine sec­onds from the “non-par­ti­san” local newspapers.

According to the Winchester Sun, “The Cardinals brought the ball past mid­court, and with only 2 sec­onds left, got a shot which was wide. John Sewell, in posi­tion to rebound under the bas­ket, sent a shot back through the nets with time already off on the clock.  The horn sound­ed just as Sewell released his shot and it rolled through.”

“Bedlam broke loose on the floor as a num­ber of fans rushed to the scorer’s table to check the deci­sion.  After a lengthy dis­cus­sion with the ref­er­ees, the offi­cial time­keep­er, Bill Burch, announced that the bas­ket was good.”

The defeat ruined a bril­liant effort by Henry Owens who was the game’s high scor­er with 27 points.  Another of the Trojan super seniors, James Walker, was unable to play.

The Mt. Sterling Advocate’s ver­sion expand­ed the sto­ry pro­vid­ing a bit more detail: 

“CARDINALS 62, TROJANS 61.  Trojan fans will argue for the rest of their lives that the above sub­head should read ‘Bill Burch 62, Trojans 61’ fol­low­ing Mt. Sterling’s over­time loss to Clark County at Winchester Friday night.

“Burch, a teacher at Clark County High, the offi­cial timer for the game said he ‘thought’ John Sewell’s shot was in the air when the horn sound­ed end­ing the over­time.  Mt. Sterling was lead­ing 61 to 60 at the time.”

One of the ref­er­ees of the game, Charlie Reed of Versailles in a state­ment to the Courier-Journal, stat­ed, “Mt. Sterling was lead­ing by one point when Clark County shot from the cor­ner with a few sec­onds left.  The ball bounced off the bas­ket but Sewell of Clark County got the ball and put it in.”

Reed con­tin­ued, “With 4,500 fans scream­ing, nei­ther official—George Maines of Lexington was under the basket—could hear the final horn.  As soon as the ball went in I turned to the scorer’s table for help, for that’s what the rule book says if you are in doubt.  But I got no assis­tance.  The offi­cial scor­er said he didn’t know if the bas­ket should count, and the timer hesitated.”

There was a long dis­cus­sion at the scorer’s table with angry fans gath­ered around.  Finally, two points went up on the score­board for Clark County—and that was it.

According to Reed, “Finally, the timer, a teacher at Clark County whom all coach­es had agreed on to work the tour­na­ment, said he thought Sewell’s shot was in the air when the horn sound­ed.  Then I made my deci­sion to give Clark County two points.  The only worse spot could have hap­pened would have been in the region­al final.”

“Jim McAfee said he couldn’t hear the horn either.  McAfee was a per­fect gen­tle­man.  He put his arm around me and took me to the dress­ing room.  There might have been more trou­ble had he not done that.”

The Advocate pub­lished one fan let­ter that read, “There was lit­tle if any delib­er­ate foul­ing and both teams had tremen­dous sup­port from cheer­ing sec­tions.  There is not one thing that either team has tCardinalso be ashamed of.  The way I saw the cru­cial play.  The Clark County boy did not have a clear shot and drib­bled about 3 or 4 steps and shot.  While the ball was in the air the buzzer sound­ed and the bas­ket was missed.  There was a quick tap up that missed and then anoth­er tap up by John Sewell that went in.” 

I per­son­al­ly believe that few, if any, in the stands actu­al­ly heard the buzzer.  I know I didn’t.  Sadly, some of the Mt. Sterling fans react­ed bad­ly.  The Cardinals’ tro­phy case was bro­ken, sev­er­al cars were van­dal­ized, and a num­ber of arrests were made.

Mt. Sterling High closed in 1976 and merged with Montgomery County.  Today there’s still a pret­ty intense rival­ry between the Montgomery County Indians and the George Rogers Clark Cardinals.

Box score and Scoring
Box score and Scoring: March 4, 1966 dis­trict tour­na­ment bas­ket­ball game between the Mt. Sterling Trojans and the Clark County Cardinals. (Submitted)

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