The Sweetness of Sport: ESPN on Small-School Basketball

kentuckyball“With another 100-point night in the books, the Elliott County Lions have adjourned to the Penny Mart (“Deli-Propane-Lotto” reads the sign). Here, playing rook amid the motor oil and fishing hooks and canned goods, they are rural royalty. The chicken wings, cheeseburgers and slushies are free for the boys after every game, enthusiastically provided by proprietor Bobbie Howard.” (photo: Randy Evans)

Thus begins a terrific ESPN piece by Pat Forde called “Daring to Dream” that profiles a tiny Kentucky high school basketball team’s quest to win the state tournament.  I found it at Stones Cry Out, a very nicely done blog by Patrick Schreiner, a student at SBTS.

Here’s more:

“And they’ve made believers out of less-famous hoops fanatics like Jim McGuire, who drives 254 miles round-trip from Bryantsville, Ky., for every game — not because the grocery store owner and retired Army man has a relative on the team, or any other connection to Elliott County. Just because of the way the Lions play — leading the state in scoring (86.3 points per game) and victory margin (31.4 points). The Lions have maxed out at 132 points in a game and have topped 100 five times.

“I started watching them last year and fell in love with them,” McGuire said, red slushie in his hand at the Penny Mart after watching Elliott County crush Fleming County 105-60 on Feb. 12. “They’re more fun than any team I’ve ever watched.”

A slice of life in the team’s hometown (sounds familiar):

“Life for Dale Ferguson includes operating Ralph’s Market #2 in Isonville — the second of his father’s two grocery/convenience/anything-and-everything stores in the area. As the sign on the roof reads, “If we don’t have it, we’ll get it.” (The unwritten subtitle, according to Dale: “If we can’t get it, you don’t need it.”)

A copy of the Ten Commandments is posted outside, above the front door. To the right of that is a sign saying the store is “an official wildlife check station.” Two old, non-digital gas pumps sit out front.”

The article closes with this:

“The postgame party is breaking up at the Penny Mart. Because of the Senior Night festivities and a doubleheader with the girls’ team, the game against Fleming County ran late and now it’s after midnight. Jim McGuire needs to make the 127-mile drive back to Bryantsville, and the boys need to be in school in the morning.

The Faulkners are handed some maroon and white balloons to take home, trappings of the party. They hug Bobbie Howard and thank her, for the umpteenth time, for her generosity.”

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This piece takes me back to my high-school days, playing ball in Maine, with hundreds of people coming out to games against cross-town rivals.  There is something special and elusive about high school basketball.  Such a rush of promise that sweeps over a community when a team is clicking along.  Sports really do possess communal power.  (Watch this video of the team for proof).

And, of course, it’s extremely fun to hear about a tiny school beating the biggest schools in the state.  I’m rooting for this little team, and I would encourage you to read about them.  They seem to play with joy, something that’s missing from so many sports teams out there.  Sport is a gift of God, an opportunity to revel in pure fun and teamwork, and it’s exceedingly pleasant to see that lived out, however unacknowledged the gift may be.


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