“For those who said it can’t be done … it can be done.”
Those were the words of long-time Scott High sports broadcaster Rick Keeton shortly after the Highlanders’ 65-63 win over Oneida in the semifinals of the South Fork Physical Therapy Christmas Classic on Saturday.
For almost as long as the two teams haven’t been playing on a regular basis, fans have clamored for the series to resume. And for just as long, naysayers have said it couldn’t happen.
For a long time, I was one of those naysayers. It wasn’t necessarily that I thought it couldn’t happen; only that there was no compelling reason for it to happen. The two schools are in separate classifications, they aren’t natural rivals, so why risk the division and controversy that might result?
But the tide has turned. The players want it. The coaches want it. The community wants it. And if Saturday’s game at OHS Gymnasium was any indication, it could be something special.
A standing-room-only crowd turned out for Saturday’s game. The gym was louder than some smaller college arenas. Both sides were passionately supporting their team — yet respectful and on their best behavior. The most off-color racket from either student section was the age-old “ball hog” chant directed at Scott’s Trey Morrow and Oneida’s Kolby Morgan, and those were half-hearted, at best — maybe because students from both sides knew it wasn’t true.
On the floor, the two teams played with class — as expected. The players from Scott High and Oneida respect each other. More than that, they’re friends; they play pickup ball together during the off-season.
It might not always be that way, of course. The current players won’t always be there, and all it takes is one loose cannon who lets his competitive spirit override good sense for things to go south in a hurry. Nor will the two coaches leading these programs always be there.
And if the two teams played on a regular basis, not all of the games would be as well-attended as Saturday’s game was. Because they rarely play — at least when it matters — Saturday’s game was more of a novelty, which helped draw the over-capacity crowd.
But a Scott High-Oneida game would always be the biggest gate of the season for either school. It would reduce scheduling headaches for both schools, and give each team an extra game each season that they wouldn’t have to hit the road for.
Anyone who has been following high school basketball closely already knew it can be done. The two teams have played three times in summer ball the last two years. They’ve scrimmaged several times, and even played a regular season game in the Twin K Hall of Fame Classic at Scott High in November.
“Everybody got to see it tonight, but our kids have been playing all fall,” Scott High coach Jordan Jeffers said Saturday night.
That was the biggest thing: obviously the players and coaches can handle themselves well. And the fans handled themselves well at the November 23 game in Huntsville. But Saturday’s game was a different animal, with fans packed in close to the court on all four sides. There were nearly as many Oneida students there as Scott High students. Some worried out loud that the challenge issued by the RaeZack’s and Independent Herald for both student sections to show up en force — with pizza as an incentive — was a bad idea. So the question was: How would everybody behave?
The answer: Splendidly. The students couldn’t have been better behaved. Even the adults were well-behaved, and how many times has it been said in recent years that “It’s the adults who can’t let go of the past”?
Both coaches made it clear that they’re on board for this to happen more often.
“I’ll say this: It hurts to lose, but Scott High made us better tonight,” Oneida’s Jacob King said. “When we get to tournament time, there’s no atmosphere we can play in that we haven’t already faced because this felt like a sub-state game tonight.
“I don’t see why we can’t do this year-in and year-out,” he added. “It would make both schools a ton of money. This was two great teams that played hard and played with class.”
Added Scott’s Jeffers: “We wanted this game to happen. We wanted to make sure there was no reason for it not to happen. We wanted to do it right.”
Like King, Jeffers thought the atmosphere was good for the teams.
“We don’t see a lot of atmospheres like this,” he said. “When we go to Austin-East, they want to beat our brains in but only 100 people show up.”
While Saturday’s matchup was a boys game only, the girls coaches — Oneida’s Marv West and Scott’s Jackson Sharp — have also signaled a willingness to play each season.
It already happens in soccer, with little drama. It was there that “The Farm” nickname for Scott High School originated, but the Highlanders took what could have been blown out of proportion and turned into a giant negative and instead had fun with it, embracing it as a rallying cry. It stands to reason that it can happen in basketball, too. Maybe someday — a long ways off, perhaps, but someday nonetheless — it can even happen in football.
For now, though, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why these two teams can’t play each year.
“Not everybody could do it,” Oneida sports broadcaster Tim Smith said. “But these two schools can do it. Oneida and Scott High are fortunate to have two guys who have the character to set the tone at the top and everybody, from the players to the fans in the stands, follow along.”