It’s Hillsboro/McClain again

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

It was a pleasant surprise this week while I was perusing the Associated Press wire and saw that Hillsboro was ranked tied for No. 14 this week in the Division II AP Boys Basketball Poll.

According to second-year coach Miles Burton, it is the first time Hillsboro has been ranked since 1998-99 season.

The Indians are currently 14-2 and on a 10-game winning streak, with a big game coming up this week at 11-4 McClain. I wish could attend the game, because it would remind me of glorious days of old when Rick Van Matre was roaming was the McClain sidelines and anytime the Tigers and Indians squared off it was foregone conclusion that the gym would be packed, the students sections would be rocking, and the cheerleaders and hosting team’s pep band would fire things up even more.

Where did those days go, I sometimes wonder.

There will be no packed house this year, no student section or pep band either. COVID-19 took care of all that. So, I guess I’ll tune in the radio and use my imagination to recreate those images of days past.

With McClain alum and one-time Hillsboro coach Joe Stewart back roaming the Tiger sidelines, and Burton adding something youth exuberance to the game, I’m sure the action on the floor will be titillating as ever. But there’s no way it can be quite as exciting without the packed house and all the noise.

It has been five years since I have been to a high school basketball game. That was when Jarron Cumberland, a Hillsboro native who went on to stardom at the University of Cincinnati, brought his Wilmington teammates to town. My youngest brother played on a Hillsboro team with Jarron’s father, Scott Cumberland, in 1988-89 that went 20-0 in the regular season, so I did not want to miss seeing the younger Cumberland play.

Actually, I stopped going to high school games a couple years before that. After my youngest son graduated in 2012, it just did not seem the same anymore. That, combined with all the games I went to played in as a youngster, the hundreds of basketball games I covered when I was a sports writer, and the myriad games I officiated, left me feeling like I had seen all I wanted to see.

Until now.

I gave up my officiating license years ago when my work schedule no longer permitted me to officiate high school games. But for years after that, I officiated lots of youth basketball. One of the last group of kids I officiated for a lot was the ones that now make up the Hillsboro varsity squad.

I knew back then that they would be better than average when they reached the varsity level. How much better depended on how much work they put in between then and now. Apparently, they did their homework.

When coach Burton talked to The Times-Gazette this week, he said his team had three goals going into the season: have a winning season, win a conference title and win a sectional championship.

The Indians have already clinched a winning season. From what I understand, they will claim a conference title if they win their final two conference games, and it’s that possibility of a championship that brings things for me back full circle.

The last time the Hillsboro boys won a league or conference title was in the 2011-12 season, when my youngest son was a senior. They won the South Central Ohio League title outright that year after having been co-champions the year before. That was just the third time in Hillsboro High School history that the boys basketball team won back-to-back league championships.

One of the other times was in 1988-89 and 1989-90. That youngest brother of mine played on the first of those two teams. The other time was in 1937-38 and 1938-39 (if I’m not off a year).

So yes, I wish I could be in the McClain gym Saturday night as the Indians try to take another step toward history.

But while I will not be there in person, I will be there in heart.

I will tune a radio to the game, and I will be rooting for the Indians. But part of me will be pulling for the Tigers, too. After all, it was coach Stewart who guided my brother’s team to that 20-0 record in 1988-89, and I have always had a soft spot for Greenfield after working there for several years.

So here’s what I hope. For the players, coaches and parents, I hope the game is as exciting as ever. I hope the gym echoes with sound. I hope it is a close game, hard-fought, with all the emotion a heated rivalry should produce. I hope the end result comes down to the last second. I hope everyone stays healthy.

And for these young student-athletes who have battled through and missed out on so much the last couple years, I hope they experience the kind of scintillating atmosphere I have so many times at McClain/Hillsboro games.

Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist