By AMANDA BEAM
— On an early weekday morning when flecks of snow filled the sky, the sound of leather against concrete could be heard coming from our driveway. Like usual, my 10-year-old son was shooting around before school, trying to get in a few precious minutes of basketball before starting the day.
Rain nor sleet nor snow can stop a Hoosier boy from this quest. Below freezing, the cold weather had iced over the net creating an impenetrable bottle neck. Three balls were trapped in its chilled funnel. At that moment, he was attempting to unsuccessfully add a fourth.
This is Indiana.
Last weekend, three Clark County boys’ high school basketball teams advanced to regionals: Clarksville, Jeffersonville and Borden, an impressive accomplishment. The latter two survived both games of the series and now continue their journeys toward their respective state titles at semistate, the final four of class basketball.
If you happen to be driving north on Interstate 65 this weekend, don’t be shocked by the amount of red letters scribbled on the back of car windows. Both the Red Devils and the Braves play in Seymour, just an hour away from here by car.
Basketball fans from across the state will converge on the city with hopes of lifting their boys to victory. Revelers in the caravan up will be ecstatic as well, some with faces painted and others with personalized signs. A few might beg for a honk to help celebrate, a kind reminder that others understand the importance of their mission.
For me, the pairing of these teams at the Seymour Semistate has another meaning. As a 1993 graduate of JHS, I witnessed our own boys’ basketball team bring home the state title 20 years ago. In the decades that followed, I’ve followed Braves basketball, my adopted home team. Marrying a Borden boy will do that to you. Having three nephews and a niece that have worn the school’s red and black jerseys doesn’t hurt either.
Back when I attended Jeff, I didn’t know much about the sport. Some might argue I still don’t. We went to the games for a sense of community and just to have a good time.
At the state championship, it felt like the whole city was there. When the guys embraced the championship trophy, the students, regardless of social standing, felt like winners too.
Theo Moore was on that Red Devil state championship team. The fellow ’93 grad can understand the emotions of this moment, even more so because his nephew, Senior Darryl Baker, starts for Jeff.
Back then, there was no class basketball. Jeff, after six previous appearances in the final four, won its sole state boys’ basketball title outright by beating Ben Davis 66-61 in the Hoosier Dome.
To Theo, playing ball with some of his best friends was one of his most cherished memories of winning state, perhaps more important than the championship itself. Through time, Theo and his friend and former ’93 teammate Sherron Wilkerson shared these stories as well as some playing advice with his nephew. The time has come for Darryl to make some memories of his own.
“I just make sure he stays mentally focused. That’s the most important thing,” Theo said. “I tell him now that when you get this far in the tournament, it’s not about talent. It’s about possession.”
Jeffersonville isn’t the only school with family ties to tournaments’ past. Borden has its fair share of connections. This weekend will be the second time in the school’s history that their boys’ basketball team has made it to semistate. That first happened five years ago. Chris Beam, my nephew, played under Coach Doc Nash during that fantastic season. His cousins, Billy Kirchgessner and Garrett Vick, start for the Braves now.
Just like after the previous regional win, fire trucks once again greeted the team bus Saturday night and led an impromptu convoy through the town. Despite having a population of little more than 800, residents and fans turned out in droves at a school pep rally held that same evening to welcome back the champs. Accustomed to barnburners, the party lasted past midnight.
Basketball isn’t just a sport for these small-town folks; it’s a way of life. Drive past the school and you’ll see why. Small billboards cheering on the team are posted on businesses and in fields once planted with crops. Most everyone knows someone who has played Borden ball. It’s a heartfelt connection — one that’s deep and personal.
On Saturday, these two fan bases will gather in Seymour to cheer on their teams. There’s little doubt they’ll be hooting and hollering for each other, too. That’s how we play basketball down here. Because this isn’t just Indiana. It’s Southern Indiana. And we have a rich legacy of our own, one that will be seen for many generations to come.
— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org