Author Jarrett Van Meter’s new book captures the emotion, talent and dedicated fans that make High School basketball a Kentucky phenomenon.
How Sweet It Is chronicles the season-long quest of three geographically, socio-economically, and culturally diverse teams — Clay County Tigers, Covington Catholic Colonels, and Taylor County Cardinals — to reach the storied “Sweet Sixteen,” played in Rupp Arena. The colorful, first-hand description of the players, coaches, and supporters of these teams is interlaced with stories from the rich history of Kentucky high school basketball.
Author Jarrett Van Meter will be selling and signing books during all five sessions of the 100th annul Sweet Sixteen tournment, March 15-19, at Rupp Arena. How Sweet It Is is also available for purchase in our online shop. Here, Van Meter shares some insights into the book and the state of high school basketball in Kentucky.
What inspired you to write about high school basketball in Kentucky?
Kentucky is one of only two states that crowns a single state champion, the other being Delaware. The Sweet Sixteen is one of the best traditions in all of sports, bringing communities from all over the state together for a week-long celebration of Kentucky’s favorite game. The timing of this book also happened to perfectly coincide with the event’s 100th anniversary.
Tell us about the decision to focus on three teams, how did you choose them and why?
Part of the Sweet Sixteen’s charm is its diversity. The tournament is not made up of the sixteen best teams in the state, otherwise we would mostly have teams from Louisville and Lexington making up the field every year. Every team from every county has a real shot to make it to Rupp. I chose to follow three teams from three very different communities (geographically, socio-economically, and socially) to illustrate that no matter what town or background a kid comes from, the goal is the same. When the kids are on the court, it doesn’t matter how much money their parents make, what color their skin is, or the size of the school they attend, they all want the same trophy.
Kentucky is crazy for college basketball. Is there the same level of excitement at the high school level?
In some places, yes. Definitely not in Lexington and Louisville, though. In the smaller communities like Clay County and Taylor County, the high school basketball games are the hot ticket in town. Covington Catholic has a student section better than most college programs.
What’s unique at the game at the high school level, especially at Sweet Sixteen time?
I would say the sense of urgency. Most Kentucky high school basketball players do not go on to play in college, yet have been in love with the game ever since they were old enough to walk. For a lot of these kids, making it to the Sweet Sixteen is a lifelong dream, yet they have only a four-year window to realize this dream.
Tell us about a few of the more memorable experiences while researching the book.
My favorite part of it all was just getting to meet so many new people from all over the state. Getting to know former Clay County coach Bobby Keith over the final year of his life was very special. Getting to walk through the tunnel at Rupp Arena with the Taylor County Cardinals and stroll out onto that floor gave me chills. Covington Catholic’s student section, the “Colonel Crazies,” might be the best in the entire nation and are worth the price of admission on their own.
Also, I was able to meet and interview many great athletes who I looked up to as a kid.
What will people learn from reading it?
Readers will learn how important the memories made through high school sports are to some people. They will learn about the rich tradition of high school basketball in this state. They will learn about the communities of Manchester, Campbellsville, and Covington.
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