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Where the 1950s saw the emergence of the United States as a superpower and the 1960s brought the challenges of rights for all within the country, the 1970s are in many ways known for the economic upheaval across the globe that ended the boom many in America had experience for nearly twenty years. Competition around the globe saw the shuttering of manufacturing that has supplied the world and dominated the economy since the end of World War II.

The decade also saw more and more families left the crowded inner cities for the leafy lawns of suburbia. In Kentucky, counties such as Oldham, Bullitt, and Shelby, Woodford, Boone and Kenton, became hot spots of growth. Schools in those counties grew larger and more competitive academically and athletically, while those in city centers lost much of their tax base and subsequent sources of funding.

In basketball, the early part of the seventies was dominated by city schools, with five of the decade's first six state championships won by Louisville schools. The other win came from Owensboro, another city school and traditionally one of the strongest programs in the state. Rumors abounded of a possible switch to class basketball in which small, rural schools could be more competitive. Those were put to rest in 1976 when Edmonson County took the state crown, proving a title could be won outside of the big cities.


This article is the sixth of ten that will endeavor to rank the ten best programs in the state during each of the ten decades of Kentucky high school basketball. There is some science to the rankings: teams were awarded 1 point for a district championship, 2 points for a region championship, 3 points for each state tournament game won, and 5 points for a state championship.

Part 1: Kentucky High School Basketball Best - Part 1 (The '20s)
Part 2: Kentucky High School Basketball Best: Part 2 - The 30s
Part 3: Kentucky High School Basketball Best: Part 3 - The 1940s
Part 4: Kentucky High School Basketball Best: Part 4 - The 50s
Part 5: Kentucky High School Basketball Best: Part 5 - The 60s


1. Male (85 points)
District Championships: 6
Region Championships: 5
State Tournament Wins: 18
State Championships: 3 (1970, 1971, 1975)

Other than perhaps Lexington High School in the decade overlapping years of 1918-1924, no school in Kentucky basketball history has been as thoroughly better than the rest of the state as Male High School was in the 1970s. Six times in the decade the Bulldogs won district titles and another five times they would win the always difficult seventh region. Male won eighteen games against only two losses in their state tournament trips, all played at Freedom Hall, a familiar place to the program that also hosted the annual Louisville Invitational Tournament and the 7th Region meet.

Male won championships in 1970, 1971, and 1975. The first two titles came under coach James Huter, who would be suspended by the Louisville Board of Education following the 1973 on charges that he allowed an alleged gambler and known recruiter of junior high athletes to associate with the Male team. Huter would be replaced by Wade Houston who posted a 90-12 record in three seasons before leaving to be an assistant at the University of Louisville.

The school was also home to two Mr. Basketball winners, Wesley Cox in 1973 and Darrell Griffith in 1976, incidentally two seasons in which the Bulldogs didn't win the state title.

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Male's Darrell Griffith puts up a shot

2. Owensboro (58 points)
District Championships: 7
Region Championships: 8
State Tournament Wins: 10
State Championships: 1 (1972)

Only one school was able to break up the Louisville basketball hegemony from 1969-1975 and that was Bobby Watson's Owensboro Red Devils. Champions in 1972, it was the second title in school history and first since the great Cliff Hagan wore the red and black in 1949. Led by Mr. Basketball Jerry Thurston and second team all-state Kenny Higgs, Owensboro rolled to a 30-4 record, including an eight point victory over Elizabethtown in the championship game.

Four wins on the way to the '72 championship was part of ten total wins at the state tournament during the decade. Owensboro was a state semifinalist in 1971, 1973, and 1977 - each time losing to the eventual state champion. The Red Devils won seven district titles and eight region crows during the decade.

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Owensboro celebrates their 1972 title

3. Central (57 points)
District Championships: 9
Region Championships: 5
State Tournament Wins: 11
State Championships: 1 (1974)

Head coach Robert Graves ended the previous decade at Louisville Central with a 35-1 state championship season in 1969. Resigned to compete in the Kentucky High School Athletic League prior to KHSAA desegregation in 1957, Central immediately showed themselves a powerhouse in the sixties and would only get better in the seventies. Eight times during the decade would Central win over twenty games. In 1974 and 1975, the Yellowjackets would post a combined 64-3 record and win a state championship in '74.

All-state players like Bob Luster, Keith Price, Bob Miller, and Flenoil Crook kept Central among the state's elite. Central owned the 21st District to the tune of nine titles in ten years. Their only loss came in 1973 to a Shawnee club that would win the state championship. Central was also the premier club in the sixth region, winning five championships.

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Central collects the 1974 state championship trophy

4. Christian County (51 points)
District Championships: 9
Region Championships: 6
State Tournament Wins: 10
State Championships: 0

Located in western Kentucky's second region, Christian County was nearly unbeatable throughout much of the decade. Nine district titles, six region championships, and ten wins at the state tournament under coaches Bob Hoggard and Lyle Dunbar made the Christian County Colonels a statewide force to be reckoned with.

However, it could have been a game that they lost that is the most significant in Kentucky hoops history. Fed up with the perceived dominance of city schools at the state tournament and the annual closing of small schools across the commonwealth, cries were growing louder for a classed basketball tournament similar to Illinois - two tournaments, one for the smaller and one for the bigger schools.

Christian County had romped through the district and region tournaments in 1976 and then beat Ashland, Shawnee, and Henry Clay on the way to the state championship game. It was there that Edmonson County, with 560 students, defeated Christian County by twenty-two points to take the championship and put to rest any significant discussions of classification. It would be thirty-five years before Christian County would win their only state championship, in 2011.

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Christian County's Curtis Parker goes up for a shot in 1976 state tournament

5. Shelby County (41 points)
District Championships: 7
Region Championships: 4
State Tournament Wins: 7
State Championships: 1 (1978)

State champions in 1966, it was a fitful few years under five different coaches before Thomas Creamer took over the Rockets in the 1975-76 season. He inherited a team that had went 17-12 the previous year but was also absorbing Shelbyville High School which had advanced to the state quarterfinals the previous year. Creamer's Rockets were region champions in 1976 and 1977 but couldn't get over the hump at the state tournament. That would all change the following year.

All-staters Charles Hurt and Norris Beckley led Shelby County to a second crown in school history, beating Holmes in overtime, 68-66. It was the first overtime state final since Ashland's historic 13-11 win over Carr Creek in four extra frames in 1928 and it was not without controversy. Charles Hurt caught a full court pass with two seconds remaining in regulation, turned and buried a 15-footer to send the game to overtime. In overtime, Hurt blocked a shot by Mr. Basketball Doug Schloemer to effectively seal the win, despite cries from Holmes that Hurt's hand was through the net and goal when he blocked the shot, denying Holmes the chance to be the first ninth region school to win a state championship.

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Goal tending or not?

6. Ashland (33 points)
District Championships: 9
Region Championships: 6
State Tournament Wins: 4
State Championships: 0

Ashland continued its stretch of high level play into the 1970s, winning nine district titles and six region championships. While not as strong as the championship squad in the sixties, the Tomcats advanced to the quarterfinals in 1971 and 1979, and made a semifinal appearance in 1977, losing to Valley.

Three different coaches guided Ashland during the decade. Harold Cole was there for three seasons, Stephen Gilmore the next three, and Paul Patterson the final four. Patterson would win region titles in each of his four seasons at Ashland before taking the head coaching position at Taylor University in Indiana.

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Ashland's 1977 state semifinalists

7. Henry Clay (33 points)
District Championships: 4
Region Championships: 4
State Tournament Wins: 7
State Championships: 0

Still without a state championship since 1924, Henry Clay began to lay groundwork for what would eventually be a state championship in the following decade. The Blue Devils won four region titles in the seventies and made impressive showings in the state tournament. Their best effort came in 1975 when they lost to Male in the championship game. They would lose to Christian County in the semifinals the following season. Henry Clay lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Shawnee in 1973 and Shelby County in 1978.

Al Prewitt led the Devil charges from 1963-91, winning 610 games. One of his best players during the 1970s was James Lee, a first team all-state member in 1974. Henry Clay's 1974 club posted a 28-4 record but fell in the 11th Region championship game to Bryan Station, who was led by Mr. Basketball Jack Givens. Both Givens and Lee would go on to stellar careers at the University of Kentucky with Givens famously scoring 41 points in the 1978 final and Lee providing the finishing touch with a monster slam to beat Duke.

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Henry Clay's Keith Evans goes to the basket in 1975

8. Ballard (32 points)
District Championships: 8
Region Championships: 2
State Tournament Wins: 5
State Championships: 1 (1977)

Suburban growth in Jefferson County led to the founding of several new high schools in the late-60s and early-70s. Ballard High in the northeastern part of the county began play in the fall of 1970. The Bruins would lose to Westport in their first ever district tournament before winning every district title for the remainder of the decade. Ballard would also win two region championships and would fall to Male in the 1974 and 1975 championship games.

Under coach Richard Schmidt it was the 1977 Ballard Bruins squad that would win the first of three state championships. Led by Mr. Basketball Jeff Lamp as well as first team all-state members Lee Raker and Jerry Eaves, Ballard went 35-2 and beat county rival Valley in the state finals. Lamp scored 43 points in the game, one point shy of the record for a member of the winning team in a championship game. Following the season, Schmidt left to be an assistant coach at the University of Virginia, taking Lamp and Raker with him as players.

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Ballard High School, 1977 State Champions

9. Warren East (27 points)
District Championships: 4
Region Championships: 4
State Tournament Wins: 5
State Championships: 0

Much like the emergence of Ballard in suburban Louisville, Warren East also didn't exist in the previous decade but came to dominate the seventies in the Bowling Green region. Formed from the consolidation of Bristow, North Warren, and Richardsville, Warren East would win four district championships and another four region titles in the decade. The Raiders were a force in the state tournament, too, advancing to the state semifinals in 1974 and again in 1979.

Oddly enough, though, the 1973 team might have the most interesting story of all. Warren East beat Franklin-Simpson and Bowling Green to win the 14th District tournament. However, they had played too many regular season games and were not allowed to participate in the region. Warren East challenged the ruling and got a restraining order, claiming in-season tournament games should only count as one game and not two (or three or however many games were actually played during the tournament). A federal judge ultimately decided that playing basketball is not ensured by the Constitution. Franklin-Simpson and Bowling Green were declared region tournament entrants. Warren East was allowed to keep their district championship trophy and Bowling Green was still considered district runner-up.

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Warren East heads to the 1974 state tournament

10. Shawnee (25 points)
District Championships: 1
Region Championships: 2
State Tournament Wins: 5
State Championships: 1 (1973)

Few schools in Kentucky have been denied success because of geography as often as Louisville's Shawnee High School. Located in the west end of Louisville, Shawnee competed in a district along with Male, Manual, and St. Xavier in the 1950s. Following the 1966 statewide realignment, their new rival was Louisville Central. Shawnee was district runners-up to Central in 1971, 1975, 1976, and 1979 (along with first round losses to the Yellowjackets four other times). It has continued to this day, with Shawnee having won five district titles in school history and finishing second an incredible thirty-three times.

But when the times were good, they were very good. The Indians (the nickname would be changed to Golden Eagles in 1995) were district champions in 1973 and region champs in both 1973 and 1976. James Gordon's 1973 Shawnee club would finish 32-2 and win the state championship, rolling over Boyd County, Henry Clay, Owensboro, and Male for the title. Wayne Golden was first team all-state and Ronnie Daniel second team for Shawnee. Golden was later an All-American at Tennessee-Chattanooga winning the 1977 Division II national championship.

Head coach James "Honeybee" Gordon quit coaching to sell real estate in February of 1975, leaving 24-year old assistant Ron Abernathy in charge of the team. Abernathy would coach the 1976 team to the state tournament, with first team all-state Durand Macklin the best player. Macklin would play college basketball at LSU and Abernathy would join him as an assistant coach. No coach has left Shawnee with a winning record since then.

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Shawnee vs. Owensboro in the 1973 state tournament