Cougars won state basketball title 40 years ago today
By Jim Turner

Posted on March 17, 2024 6:03 PM


Forty years ago today—March 17, 1984, the Logan County Cougars pulled off the almost unimaginable, winning the Sweet Sixteen—the state championship of Kentucky boys basketball. It was an even loftier title than winning the Kentucky Derby, or at least it seemed that way to us.

The Mighty Coogs set two records that day. 1) They became the youngest/newest school (19 months) to win the state in Kentucky, which then was considered the Promised Land of Basketball nationally. 2) Their 37 wins were the most in Kentucky high school history.

Coach Gerald Sinclair’s team finished 37-3 by beating Bourbon County 83-70 on that Saturday night at Rupp Arena. They had gone undefeated in regular season play and had won three tournaments, the 13th District, the 4th Region, and the Sweet Sixteen. The three losses had come in the state’s most prestigious tournaments—the King of the Bluegrass, the Louisville Invitational and the Ashland Invitation.

The first loss came in overtime to George Rogers Clark (Clark County) in overtime of the King of the Bluegrass in suburban Louisville. GRC was coached by Guy Strong, who had decades of head coaching experience at Eastern Kentucky and Florida State universities. Shooting guard Tim Thomason was especially on target in that game. If the three-point goal had been legalized then, the Cougars would have won easily.

After the game, legendary Courier-Journal high school sportswriter Bob White came over to comfort me. “Don’t let this bother you,” he reasoned. “People don’t remember who won the King of the Bluegrass. They remember who won the state.

He was right.

The Logan County team was made up primarily of guys who had gained much valuable experience playing for the five high schools which were consolidated into LCHS in the fall of 1982. Center Fred Tisdale and point guard Tim Viers had been the stars of Coach Barry Reed’s Auburn Tigers who reached the regional finals in 1982 in the last game ever played by a non-consolidated Logan County team. Karl Dawson had been a starter at Olmstead, Stacey Mason had played at Adairville, and Timmy Thomason and Gary Barker had played at Chandlers for the man who was to become the first Cougar head coach, Gerald Sinclair. The only two who played significant roles at state who hadn’t played a lot before LCHS were junior John Tisdale and sophomore Henry Jones.

Logan didn’t go into the state tournament as the favorite. That role belonged to Lexington Henry Clay, which was the defending state champion and was led by the favorite to be named Mr. Basketball, center Steve Miller.

Miller was indeed Mr. Basketball with Logan’s Fred Tisdale runner-up. But Fred earned an honor that he seemed to cherish more that Mr. Basketball. He was Most Valuable Player of the state tournament. Miller and Tisdale were teammates at Western Kentucky University the next year. Hilltopper Coach Clem Haskins watched most of the tournament in person, as did University of Kentucky national champion coach Joe B. Hall.

Fred Tisdale and Stacey Mason were named to the all-tournament team. They are still the two best players ever to don a Cougar uniform. Tim Viers could very well be the third best. Two decades late, Fred was named one of the 50 greatest players in state tournament history.

The championship game was played in front of over 20,000 fans at Rupp Aena along with a statewide television network. Tom Hammond, a broadcasting legend who was known worldwide for his Olympics coverage, did the play-by-play on TV. He was joined by Ralph Hacker, who succeeded Cawood Ledford as the Voice of the Kentucky Wildcats, and UK’s Jack ‘Goose’ Givens, who had scored 41 points in the national championship game against Duke six years earlier and who is now the color commentator for UK basketball.

The Cougars had beaten Russellville in the district finals. I still believe that the second-best team in the region was Coach Don Burton’s Panthers, who included some key players from Coach Ken Barrett’s state championship football team three months earlier, including Clay Parrish, Rodney Gordon, Jonathan Cage and the injured Oscar York along with one of the state’s best tennis players, Billy Jeff Burton. Logan beat Warren East in the regional finals.

It had been 33 years since a team from Logan County (Auburn) had been to state. Fans were ready for it. A huge impromptu pep rally was held on three stories of the Lexington Center in the area connecting Rupp Arena and the Hyatt Regency hotel. I don’t think I’m the only one who still feels a tingling of the spine when remembering that cheering echoing through those three levels.

Here’s a look at the four games at state:

Cougars 57, Meade County 54

The Logan County state championship almost didn’t happen. For most of the game, it appeared Meade County was going to upset the Cougars. It was the first state appearance for both schools, but Meade Coach Larry Miller had directed Simon Kenton High School to an unexpected state championship a few years earlier.

The Greenies jumped out to a 10-2 lead as nerves got to the boys from the Land of Logan. Meade had a massive center in Jim Yates, who hit 10 of 12 field goal attempts and finished with a game-high 22 points. Logan’s center, Tisdale, who was much more highly rated, started slow but came back to finish with 21 points and 13 rebounds.

The player who is credited most for keeping the Cougar Dream alive in this game was senior guard Gary Barker, who played very little in Logan’s first season and wasn’t used a great deal this season until about the mid-point of the year. He turned on at Rupp. He finished with 17 points, including a free throw in the last couple of minutes after Logan had taken the lead for good on a goal by another reserve, Henry Jones, with 3:18 remaining.

One of Barker’s biggest plays came on defense by drawing a charge on the 6’8”, 255-pound Yates in the closing moments. The 5’8”, 127-pound Barker was playing the back of a zone defense in the lane. Barker later hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left to clinch the win.

“It was #12 (Barker) who beat us,” Meade coach Miller said afterwards.

Viers scored nine points and ran the 1-4 offense that coaches Sinclair and Reed employed late in the game.

Quarterfinals” Cougars 70, Lexington Henry Clay 68 (OT)

This was not only the Game of the Tournament, but also one of the greatest games in Sweet Sixteen history. It matched the top two teams in the state, the top two players in the state, and a multi-time state champion team, including the year before, against a school in its infancy with its predecessors not having much of a statewide presence. Blue Devils coach Al Prewitt was known statewide; Sinclair wasn’t.

Speaking of names, consider this: One of Henry Clay’s key players was Chip Rupp, grandson of Baron of the Bluegrass Adolph Rupp, for whom the building was named.

Could the upstarts do it? Yes, but it wasn’t easy.

Henry Clay led at the first three stops, 17-12, 33-25 and 53-47. In the second quarter, Tisdale had scored eight straight points to put the Cougars ahead, but he was assessed his third foul with 3:36 remaining in the half when Chip Rupp tripped over him. A little over a minute later, Henry Clay’s Miller joined him with three personals.

With 1:17 remaining in regulation, Logan took the lead at 64-63 with the Big Three contributing. Stacey Mason scored the goal on a Fred Tisdale assist after a Tim Viers steal. Tisdale went into that extra three minutes with four fouls.

With five seconds left in the OT and a second extra period looming, the Cougars’ quickest player, Jones, had the ball near the lane. He was defended by an excellent guard, Jeff Blanton. Jones faked left, wheeled right and laid the ball on the backboard and into the goal,

Game, set, match!

Headlines abounded. “Move over Henry Clay; make room for Henry Jones,” “Oh, Henry, what a move!” and “Along came Jones!”

Tisdale scored 25 points, and Mr. Kentucky Miller 10. Tisdale hit 12 of 13 shots on the way to those 25 points.

Mason totaled 22 points and 9 rebounds. Eighteen of those points came after halftime. Viers added 12 points and 6 assists.

It was on to the Final Four.

Semifinals: Cougars 68, Madisonville-North Hopkins 66

This is the forgotten clutch win by the Cougars. Just a few hours after Logan County had gone into overtime to beat the state favorite, they had to take on a 32-2 team on a Saturday morning. It was tight throughout.

Tisdale and Barker each went 4 for 4 at the line in the late going.

Fred hit 9 of 11 field goal attempts, bringing his total 21 of 24 in less than 20 hours. He also went 10 of 13 at the line. Viers scored 9 points and added 6 assists. Barker also scored 9, Mason 8, Jones 6, Karl Dawson 4 and John Tisdale 1.

Shane Belcher led the Maroons with 15 while Bryce West had 14, and Joe Curry, a UK football signee who was one of two All-State football players on the team, added 12.

Finals: Cougars 83, Bourbon County 70

Logan had beaten its three opponents by a total of seven points going into the finals. Could they survive another nailbiter. Thankfully, we’ll never know. This game proved to be less dramatic.

After a tight first half that saw the Colonels lead 17-13 after a quarter and the Cougars edge ahead 39-38 at the half, the Cougars took a 60-55 lead into the final quarter of the state tournament. The go-ahead points at intermission were courtesy of a John Tisdale steal and goal.

Then Sinclair’s team laid claim to that huge trophy by 12 of the first 13 points of the fourth quarter. Bourbon County pulled to within 71-64, but Fred scored on a Jones assist and Mason added a bucket on a Viers steal.

The Cougars had some impressive statistics. They hit 25 of 66 field goal attempts for 53 percent and 13 of 17 foul shots for 76 percent. They dominated the boards 47-25, including 22-8 in the first half. The only negative number was 23 turnovers.

Bourbon County, which finished 27-9, shot 43 percent from the field and 14 of 19 for 74 percent.

Fred Tisdale’s game stats show 29 points, 19 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 blocked shots. Stacey Mason totaled 15 points and 10 rebounds. Henry Jones had a huge game with 20 points and 4 assists. Twice Henry stole inbounds passes and converted them into Cougar goals.

Karl Dawson, who was solid on the board and defense at state and throughout his steady career, scored 7, and Viers, Barker and John Tisdale 4 each. Also playing were Tim Thomason, Phillip Mallory, Todd Parker, Warren Thomason, Keith Hines and Brent Hinton.

Jeff Graves led Bourbon County with 22 points. Keith Fryman had 15, Wayne Mugge and Tracy Thomas 11 each, and Jeff Royce 10.

For the tournament, Fred—the MVP--totaled 103 points, 47 rebounds and 5 assists. He was good on 41 of 60 field goal attempts for 68 percent.

In between state and college, Tisdale was named MVP of the Derby Dan Classic all-star game and also played in a prestigious tournament in the East. He was runner-up for Mr. Kentucky and a member of the Kentucky All-Stars who played against Indiana. At times, he was a starter for WKU.

Mason played four years for Trevecca Nazarene College and led them to their first appearance in the NAIA National Tournament.

Viers played junior college ball in Illinois.

Gerald Sinclair was named Kentucky Coach of the Year. The vote was taken before tournament time started, so he had been chosen long before the Cougars won the state. That honor came shortly after Russellville’s Ken Barrett had been named state football Coach of the Year. The school year 1983-84 was one of the best in local sports history.

Sadly, Gary Barker and John Tisdale died young. Coach Sinclair passed away shortly before his induction into the Logan County Hall of Fame both as an individual and with the team.

In the 40 years that have passed since that special St. Patrick’s Day, all 13 players on the team; coaches Sinclair, Barry Reed, David Billingsley and David Beckner; the managers; Athletic Director Bob Birdwhistell, Principal Howard Gorrell and the sportswriter who covered them, Jim Turner, have all been named to the Logan County Athletic Cougar Hall of Fame.

Another role this team played was bringing the students, parents and fans from five small schools together to become united behind one big one. That would have made this team special, even if they hadn’t won it all.

They did win it all, though, and four decades later, the memories are still sweet.





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