Saturday night’s final game of the 2014 Clarion Inn Southwest Classic between the Garden City Buffaloes and Holcomb Longhorns boys’ basketball teams is a reminder of what high school athletic competitions can be.
There was the anticipation of another high-level, high-intensity game at The Garden between the state’s No. 1-ranked Class 4A-II Longhorns and the Class 6A Buffs, who had taken the state’s No. 7-ranked Class 6A Olathe North team down to the wire a week earlier in a two-point loss at the Hays City Shootout.
Not until December of 2011 had the Finney County schools met on the basketball floor. In that inaugural battle, the teams capped off the first Clarion Inn Southwest Classic at the Perryman Athletic Complex, a neutral floor for both teams.
Over the past two seasons, the teams met in late January as part of the regular season schedule, first at The Garden in 2013 (first season for that venue) and then earlier this year at Holcomb High’s gym.
Crowds were aplenty at each game, with estimations ranging from 2,000 in the opening game at Perryman — roughly the same in 2013 at The Garden — to last year’s packed to the brim contest in Holcomb’s smaller gym (seating capacity 1,225).
Saturday provided the fourth meeting between the two schools, and by the time the boys tipped off, only a couple of hundred seats were likely empty, with many people standing around the upper level walking area.
Unlike years past, this year’s Lady Longhorns were short on experience and shorter yet in height when Jordan Jarnagin had to sit out due to an injury. That left the Lady Buffs with a decided height advantage, and they took control early and cruised to a convincing 50-21 win.
The Lady Buffs have now won three of the four meetings, with the first game going into overtime.
The boys side, meanwhile, had seen the Buffs win the first meeting by 13 points and then the Longhorns capture the next two by double-digit margins.
Saturday’s game turned out to be one of those games that might be talked about, discussed and dissected for years to come.
Holcomb’s dramatic comeback from a 16-point halftime deficit opens many debates for armchair quarterbacks, chiefly: A) how can a game turn around that quickly; B) by that much; C) for a team to eventually win a five-point overtime game; D) on the other team’s home floor?
In other words, the Longhorns crashed The Garden party.
With the final buzzer, joy flowed from the faces of the Holcomb players and coaches. The agony of the loss was just as apparent on the faces of the Buffs, and the downcast looks of the GCHS coaching staff clearly displayed the sting of the loss.
It’s what ABC’s Wide World of Sports coined years ago as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
We see it all the time no matter the sporting event. America is braced for competition, and we should embrace it. That’s what makes this country special.
Saturday’s attendance was perhaps the biggest ever in the brief three years that GCHS has been playing in The ‘New’ Garden. With a seating capacity right at 2,500, it is safe to say that with people standing around the upper level, that at least 2,000 fans watched that game.
Community fans from both Finney County schools were well represented. Orange and Black, Brown and White. Spirit was feverish.
Both student sections were nearly full at each end of the court, and each student section had their own chants to set the stage for a lot of back-and-forth bantering, most of it in good clean fun. It may well have been the biggest student section at a GCHS basketball game I’ve witnessed in five years.
A few students from Garden High, unfortunately, took the opportunity to provide some unwarranted signage, along with unneeded antics under the basket when Holcomb was shooting at that end of the gym in the first half.
Credit the GCHS administration for removing those signs — and the students — from the gym. There’s nothing wrong with high-level cheering for one’s own team; offensive cheering has no place.
Both the Holcomb and Garden City fans, as well as their coaches and players, were not always in agreement with calls made by the three-man officiating crew.
Fifty-seven fouls and 70 free throws tends to dampen the spirit of the game, as well as hampering the rhythm teams need to play a great game, which is what everybody wants to see.
It baffles me as to why any sane person would don the striped shirt and black pants, carry a whistle around their neck, and run up and down the floor to try and maintain control of a basketball game.
How many of us — yes, you and me both — would like our jobs if somebody was screaming in our ears every single time we did something? Every...single…time.
No matter what call is made, somebody isn’t happy. It’s been that way since competitive sports began more than a century ago. And we should be used to that by now.
Yelling and screaming at games is just part of sports. It’s how and what you say that makes the difference. Fans today are no less tolerant of officiating than they were 40 years ago. It’s a difference between being a poor sport, and a good fan.
On the flip side of that, though, is the tough job officials have. If you grade out at 95 percent (that’s an A in most classes), 5 percent of the time somebody will be mad at you. And it’s not like these guys are making the big bucks either.
It is a known fact in southwest Kansas, and across the Sunflower State, that the state high school activities association is having trouble bringing young, new officials into their programs.
With that said, the officials who do step on the floor need to come to the games prepared to do their job.
They need to review previous games and how they can improve. They need to be in good physical shape so they can keep up with the fast-paced games of today.
Officials should bring an educational philosophy to the court in an effort to help the players learn how to play the game better, and with the right attitude.
When games conclude, it’s always a good thing when you can reflect and know that one hardly noticed the striped shirts. We all need to remember this is about the kids.
Saturday’s festive atmosphere should be embraced by both communities.
The future of the Clarion Inn Southwest Classic looks bright. Bringing in quality teams should always be at the top of the shopping list for the athletic directors at Garden, Holcomb and Scott City.
Bringing the Beavers into the loop a year ago realistically brings the top three basketball programs in southwest Kansas into a single event. Officials will consider how to perhaps set up a Scott City vs. Garden City matchup down the road.
One solution, simply a scheduling issue, is that whichever team Garden plays on the final night of The Classic, they would play the other school most likely in late January/early February. Thus, the Buffs would be guaranteed games with both of those schools each season.
Both athletic directors at Garden and Holcomb have indicated they are generally pleased with The Classic, and are happy with the annual rivalry game.
They both deserve the opportunity to play on their home court, but future games will be hard-pressed to match the intensity, drama and final-second theater of Saturday’s “Classic.”
Great basketball traditions, great fans, close proximity. A recipe for big, big crowds and communities who support their teams faithfully.
Several people have said that Saturday night felt like a state tournament atmosphere. Yes, it did have that feel to it.
And when the season winds down in three months, don’t be surprised if the three boys’ teams are all competing in a similar state atmosphere in their respective classes.
It was a great three days for any basketball junkie.
Keep feeding the frenzy.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall
can be emailed at