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Will Cloverport be Tell City’s Cliburn?

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At the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union were each trying to prove their superiority in everything.
So in 1958 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had his country host the first International Tchaikovsky Competition for classical musicians, an event designed to demonstrate Soviet cultural superiority. But he had to be embarrassed when a 23-year-old American pianist, Van Cliburn, won the competition handily.
This season Tell City will host tiny Cloverport, Ky., in boys basketball, presumably to demonstrate the Marksmen’s superiority in that sport. But Tell City will be as embarrassed as Khrushchev was if Cloverport emerges victorious, which is certainly as likely as Cliburn’s victory was.
Last year Cannelton beat Tell City 65-60 and beat Cloverport 65-63. Cloverport’s top player, Nick Smith, had 32 points and 11 rebounds against the Bulldogs. He hit 9 of 15 from the field and 12 of 14 free throws.
He was a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, so he will still be playing for the Aces in both years of their two-year scheduling contract with Tell City.
The Aces might even be favored next year, when Smith is a senior and the game is on his home court.
Tell City’s top seven players this year are seniors, so its most experienced players next year will be Hunter Rowe and Gant Miller, who are splitting time between JV and varsity this year.
Even if the Marksmen win the game this year, it’s really a no-win situation for them because they are expected to win.
So why did they schedule Cloverport?
They added the Aces to replace Evansville North on the schedule because Tell City Coach Brent Owen said he “didn’t think we were giving our kids a good chance to be successful” by playing North, which has 1,535 students.
He said he didn’t specifically set out to schedule Cloverport. “We tried Wood Memorial and Paoli, and we’re trying to get Boonville back on our schedule.”
None of those schools had openings this year, though the Marksmen are picking up Wood Memorial next year to replace Ohio County, Ky., on the schedule.
I think that is a good move, as Wood Memorial is closer than Ohio County and could be in the same sectional as the Marksmen in a few years if it gains a few more students (it was one student short of going up to Class 2A a few years ago).
Paoli and Boonville have been in Tell City’s sectional at times. Boonville is only 36 miles from Tell City and will host Tell City’s sectional every other year for the next few years (though Boonville won’t be in it), so playing there especially makes sense.
But I’m not so sure about playing Cloverport.
The positives are it’s close—about 15 miles from Tell City—and Tell City does stand a better chance of winning than against many other schools. And even though Cloverport has less than one-tenth the enrollment of Evansville North, the Aces will probably bring more fans to the game at Tell City, as North hasn’t had a strong following for decades.
But again, beating the Aces won’t impress many people and losing to them could induce apoplexy in Tell City fans. And Cloverport’s small gym can be a tough place for visiting teams to play.
Several coaches say games are usually officiated in a different style in Kentucky. And district officials, instead of the home teams, hire the referees there, so you never know what you’re going to get.
Sometimes you get Mike Devine, who lives in Newburgh, works games in Indiana and Kentucky, and usually does an excellent job.
Other times you get some less experienced referees who are easily swayed by the home crowd or think they get paid by the number of fouls they call.
Even though Tell City would be unlikely to beat Evansville North this year or next, I hate to see the Huskies dropped from the Marksmen’s schedule.
The teams had a long rivalry and each took tremendous pride in defending its home court.
In December 1967 North came to Tell City as the defending state champion and featuring a forward, Bob Ford, who would go on to star at Purdue University and play one year in the pros.
Yet the unranked Marksmen won, keeping their streak of never letting the Huskies win at Tell City going.
Tell City’s enrollment is less than half what it was then. But it still needs to play a few big schools to get experience going against quick teams and find out what it needs to work on most.
Tell City once had all Evansville public schools on its schedule but now has none (Tell City dropped most of them through the years, though Harrison dropped Tell City).
Tell City has also dropped New Albany and Castle from its schedule through the years and will play only one school with an enrollment over 750 this year.