The 71st edition of the Louisville Invitational Tournament starts Monday at Valley High School. Held annually since 1948, the LIT is Kentucky’s oldest regular season high school basketball tournament and has evolved into a true city championship for teams in the Sixth and Seventh Regions.

The LIT was started by Louisville high schools because of a dispute with the All-Kentucky Conference, a state-wide conference that initially was made up of 16 of the largest high schools in Kentucky. Male, Manual and St. Xavier, the three public and parochial high schools then located in Louisville, were members of the All-Kentucky Conference. Starting in 1940, Male hosted the All-Kentucky Conference basketball tournament to which 8 teams from the Conference were invited. Flaget High School opened in the mid-40’s and, by 1947, was perhaps the best team in Louisville, but Flaget was not allowed to participate in the All-Kentucky Conference tournament because it was not a member of the Conference. As the other three Louisville schools wanted to participate in a tournament that included Flaget, those four then–existing Louisville schools (Male, Manual, St. X and Flaget) started the LIT as an alternative to the All-Kentucky Conference tournament.

The initial concept was that the LIT would be an 8-team tournament, comprised of the four Louisville schools, two teams from Jefferson County, and two teams from elsewhere in the state. However, the field for the initial LIT in 1948 consisted of the four Louisville schools plus Hall High School (from Grays Knob in Harlan County), Covington Holmes, Central City, and the eventual champion, Owensboro. That Owensboro team included future UK player Bobby Watson and future UK player and Hall of Fame member Cliff Hagan.

Inviting some of the best teams from outside Louisville became a staple of the LIT, with the number of non-Louisville schools participating in a given year fluctuating between four and seven. The goal was always to bring the best state teams to Louisville for the LIT. That became increasingly difficult through the years, and the tradition of inviting state schools ended in 2010, when it was decided to limit the field to teams from the Sixth and Seventh Regions. By that time, no school from outside Jefferson County had won the LIT in 13 years, and only two state teams (Marion County in 1993 and Owensboro in 1997) had won the LIT in the past twenty years.

The total number of teams also has fluctuated through the years, largely to accommodate the growing number of high schools in the Louisville area. The field was expanded to 12 teams in 1955 to include all 8 then-existing city schools (the four original schools plus Ahrens, Atherton, Eastern, and Shawnee). The field expanded again the following year to 16, which included the addition of the “county schools” of Fern Creek, Southern, and Valley. The field has been as large as 28, an effort to accommodate all Jefferson County public and parochial schools plus four non-Louisville schools. This year, the field has been reduced to sixteen.

In 1978, the LIT underwent a significant change when it was decided to use the Litkenhous ratings appearing in the Courier-Journal to determine the Jefferson County schools that would be included in the LIT field (at that point, the field consisted of 10 Jefferson County teams and 6 state teams). That was changed in 2010 when the LIT Committee decided to use the SETH rankings, a ranking system developed by JCPS Director of Athletics Jerry Wyman, to determine the field and the seeding for the LIT.

The LIT has been played at some of Jefferson County’s most renowned basketball venues. Starting at the old Male High on Brook Street (where St. Francis High School is playing its home games this year), the LIT called Freedom Hall home for a number of years but also has been held at Louisville Gardens, Broadbent Arena, Knights Hall at Bellarmine and, since 2013, at Valley High School.

Since its inception in 1948, 38 participants in the LIT have gone on to win the state tournament the year in which they played in the LIT. Those teams have included some of the Kentucky’s most fabled high school teams, including the 1952 Cuba Cubs, 1963 Seneca Redskins (now Redhawks), 1975 Male Bulldogs, and 1977 Ballard Bruins. Twelve teams have won the LIT and the state tournament in the same year (Trinity being the last to do so, in 2012), and Fairdale has twice won the LIT, King of the Bluegrass, and the state tournament in the same year (1990 and 1991).

The LIT also has hosted some of the best Kentucky high school players to have ever played the game. Three members of the Naismith Hall of Fame played in the LIT, Owensboro’s Cliff Hagan (1948), Seneca’s Wes Unseld (1963), and Newport Central Catholic's Dave Cowens (1966). Thirty-six Mr. Basketballs have participated in the LIT; in addition to Mr. Basketballs from Louisville such as Unseld and Darrell Griffith (Male, 1976), Jeff Lamp (Ballard, 1977), Winston Bennett (Male, 1983), and Allan Houston (Ballard, 1989), that list includes legendary Kentucky high school players such as Mike Casey (Shelby County, 1966), Jim McDaniels (Allen County, 1967), Jimmy Dan Connor (Anderson County, 1971), Jack Givens (Bryan Station, 1974), Rex Chapman (Apollo, 1986), and Richie Farmer (Clay County, 1988).

The 2018 LIT once again promises to be an outstanding event. And with the possibility of a rubber match between Trinity and Fern Creek in the championship game, it has the potential to be quite memorable.