Scott County rises above rivalry to support community

Scott County rises above rivalry to support community

With a rivalry that is older than Meyer Gym, fans, families, current students, and cheerleaders and players from years past poured into the auditorium on a Sunday night for an alumni showdown between Scottsburg High School and Austin High School.

“There is still a rivalry after all these years. That was the one game a year that you wanted to win. If you could win one game a year, it would be against them,” said Allen Barnett, a member of the Class of 1999 Warrior basketball team and now a teacher at SHS.

The atmosphere electric and the true meaning of Hoosier Hysteria was at an all-time high in Scott County as the alumni Warriors and Warriorettes and the Austin Lady Eagles and Eagles took the floor at the first-ever Thanksgiving Throwback Throwdown, presented by the Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council. As the players from far back as the Class of 1973 warmed up, Taylor Swift’s song, “Bad Blood”, boomed through the gymnasium filled with about 2,500 people.

“The rivalry was still alive last night even after all these years. It was in the two schools coming to cheer on their team, the purple and gold, and black and white in their respective seats in the gym. You could just feel it in the air. It was awesome,” said Tiarra English, who is a Class of 2007 cheerleader and now a teacher at Scottsburg New Tech High School.

Despite the long-standing rivalry, the teams, fans, students, and community came together to support more than just their schools — they came to support their community. The Thanksgiving Throwback Throwdown was a fundraiser for the Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council, who grants funding to youth-based and other community organizations.

“All the money benefits the youth of Scott County — leadership and team-building activities for the YGC members, and then they also use extra for their grantmaking each year, which is for youth-related projects in Scott County. They get applications from any organization that serves youth and they evaluate and award money. This past May they funded $5,000 in grants,” said Jaime Toppe, executive director of the Scott County Community Foundation. “The YGC has two endowment funds to support their grantmaking, and they do fundraisers every year to supplement their grants and support their mission. They always receive more requests than the funding they have, so this will be a great addition to help close that gap.”

The idea to have an alumni game started in the spring when Brittany Banister, an AHS cheerleader and now a teacher at Vienna-Finley Elementary School, approached Toppe about having a game.

“Knowing how intense everyone gets about basketball in Scott County, and how so many people love to come home for the Thanksgiving rivalry, I knew it would be a hit for our county,” Banister said. “Tying it into the YGC [Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council] and Community Foundation seemed like it would benefit our county in so many ways.”

From the idea to planning in the summer months, the Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council and Toppe started putting the pieces into place for the big game. The group had to reserve Meyer Gym, which the Scott County School District 2 School Board agreed to waive the facility fees, and schedule a date for the game that did not conflict with the other Scottsburg and Austin varsity games that take place during Rivalry Week. The Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council came up with a name and ticket prices and coordinated with others on concessions and flyers to use to recruit and advertise the game. They also gathered sponsors to pay for all the expenses — shirts, officials, trophies, half-time event, and other game day needs.

“I cannot thank Scott County School District 2 enough! They donated the use of Meyer Gym and the cost of the custodians, who were amazing with their help! Kevin Jentzen and Eric Copple set up our photo slideshow for us. The Boosters are donating part of the concessions proceeds...” Toppe said.

After all the planning, the Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council utilized key, former basketball players to find other players to play in the alumni game. For SHS, Melinda Sparkman and Jacob Johanningsmeier helped recruit the basketball players and Jason Kendall helped coordinate the SHS cheerleaders. For AHS, Jared Petersen and Courtney McGinity-Hover helped recruit the basketball players and Banister helped coordinate the AHS cheerleaders.

“[The recruiting] started by mouth. I have stayed in contact with many of them. — probably the easiest way was through Facebook,” said Sparkman, a Class of 1979 Warriorette, SCSD2 coach for the last 30 years, former Indiana University women’s basketball player, Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and SCSD2 treasurer and business manager. “The Warriorette family is big and going strong. It’s a really neat group of women that are still connected in many ways because of basketball.”

With the rosters set, the game was set with the Warriorettes and Lady Eagles taking the floor first. The Warriorettes’ team consisted of players from every decade in the last 40 years with a concentration in the mid-1990s. The Lady Eagles featured many of their alumnae from the current decade and the one prior with many players from the 2010 state champion team.

“I think the best part of playing in the alumni game was getting to play with childhood heroes (Hutchinson, Mays, Thompson girls, etc.), girls I shared the court with in my era, and girls that I coached at the high school level,” said Tiffany Copple, Class of 2001 Warriorette, former coach, and current Scottsburg Middle School teacher. “It was also amazing to run out onto the floor again with a ball in my hand, the sound of the crowd, and the anticipation of a rivalry game!”

The Warriorettes and Lady Eagles battled it out with full-court pressing, tumbles to the floor, and intensity in every play. Patty Clancy, a Class of 1994 Warriorette and former Ball State University women’s basketball player, hit the first points for the SHS alumni squad. The crowd went wild when Sparkman scored two points down low in the first half at the two-and-one-half minute mark.

“It was completely different for me. It’s been 16 years since I’ve played competitively. I really can’t compare to what it was like in high school,” Clancy said. “It was so fun participating in the alumni game. It was great to represent our school, team, and community.”

By the game’s end, the Warriorettes fell to the Lady Eagles, 31-48.

“I bleed purple and gold and so appreciate my glory days. It was a chance to reconnect with former teammates and players. And, I knew what a great atmosphere it would be,” Sparkman said.

“There were frustrating moments during the alumni game. Moments when my teenage self may have let those frustrations get to me,” Tiffany Copple said. “When you hear your students cheering for you and see your own children in the stands, you make sure that your priorities and character remain intact. What an amazing opportunity to show the younger people how it should be done!”

In between the games, the Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council held a halftime raffle, where the winner had the chance to win $100. In order to win, the winner had to make a layup, free throw, three-point shot, and a half-court shot in less than one minute. The second person to attempt it, Jake Kitchell, hit the final, half-court shot with only seconds left on the clock to win the $100. Kitchell played for the Indiana State University Sycamores and is now a professional basketball player in Europe.

After the Warriorettes finished, the Warriors and Eagles took the floor following the stunts and cheers of the SHS and AHS cheerleaders. While the players and cheerleaders have aged, the excitement before every basketball game begins at Meyer Gym did not change.

“I just really enjoyed the atmosphere and the amount of people that showed up for such a great cause in our community. If another community was to try to do something like this, there is no way it would be as successful as it was here in Scott County,” said Dustin Marshall, Class of 2005 Warrior, former Franklin College men’s basketball player, and now the director of special education at SCSD2. “That is a true testament to both Austin and Scottsburg, and the passion that both schools have for the basketball programs and ultimately for our community. What an amazing experience!”

The Warriors featured players from the 1990s and up to last year, including James Colwell, who is a Class of 1998 Warrior and played at Gardner-Webb University, and Evan Hutchinson, who is a Class of 2004 Warrior and played at Oakland City University. The Eagles had players as early as 1977 with Mike Barrett, who was up against his son, Christian, a Class of 2015 Warrior. The rest of the Eagle squad was from 1999 to 2015 and included local basketball legend Anthony Winchester, who played at Western Kentucky University and has enough accolades and records that more than half of one page of the program was devoted to his extensive basketball career and legacy.

“I knew going into it that I wouldn’t be nearly as competitive as some of the younger guys that were scheduled to play, but having a chance to be a part of something like this was something that I did not want to pass up,” said Eric Copple, Class of 1999 Warrior and now network administrator at SCSD2.

The game started with Winchester hitting three points and SHS responding with two points. The back-and-forth between the two teams carried on for several minutes during the first half. The matchup intensity turned up between Hutchinson and Winchester as balls were deflected, points were scored, and the drive to the basket came with a speed and a power that only age can bring.

By the end, the Warriors were defeated by the Eagles, 44-79.

“The best part of playing in the alumni game was seeing the community come together with such an amazing turnout and having a chance to see some old players that I have not seen in a long time. Sports have a way of creating relationships that last long after the season is over and having a chance to connect with some of those guys again on the court was a fun experience,” Eric Copple said.

After the games ended, the real winners of the alumni tournament shined — the community. Because of the thousands of dollars raised, the Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council and the Scott County Community Foundation are able put the money back into the community through granting projects the benefit local residents.

“This will help sustain it,” said Jordan Shuler, Scott County Youth Grantmaking Council member and the chairman of the committee that organized the alumni game. “We have helped every single school in this county with projects in classrooms — the American Studies film library, Blessings in a Backpack, the United Way. This will benefit the youth of Scott County.”

While the rivalry between the two school exists, the alumni game was a positive for the county and the fans, players, students, cheerleaders, and community came together to help one another.

“I thought that [the alumni game] showed how the community can come together to better the county. There is still good in the community and I hope that this event will get a lot of publicity,” Barnett said.

“Although I work for SCSD2 and my kids go to Vienna-Finley, I am a supporter of Scott County. Austin is my hometown, and I'm very proud of that. I think the alumni game proved that the when we come together to support a common cause, we can do big things,” Banister said.

The Thanksgiving Throwback Throwdown was a way for the community to come together for a common good — the people, especially the youth, of Scott County. At Scott County School District 2, the story of basketball tradition and friendly competition is our story. Your story matters. You matter.