CATLETTSBURG, Ky. – The old Catlettsburg High School gym hadn’t looked this good in a long time.
The floor was freshly waxed, orange-and-black streamers were everywhere thanks to the cheerleaders who had worked for a couple of long days to make sure it was perfect.
It was the biggest game in Catlettsburg since, well, nearly 50 years. The Wildcats were alive again, the gymnasium was full of fans, popcorn smells were waffling through the air. Tickets were tough to come by unless you knew somebody.
When Roy “Pappy” Holbrook brought in the 1953 Wildcats for their game with the 1968 Wildcats, the crowd went wild. They included some of the greatest athletes in Catlettsburg history like Curt Cassell, Norm Collinsworth and Don Eddy.
The 68 Wildcats were void of stars and famous names. Roger Zornes was the star, a 6-foot-4 big man who would take Catlettsburg to its last 16th Region Tournament that year. He also had Stephen “Bubby” Spears, Don Rooker and feisty Jimmy Ross beside him. A sophomore on the roster, Phil Webb, was an up-and-coming player. He became a better known later when his son became a National League Cy Young Award winner.
These teams were going to revive the old Catlettsburg High School spirit and everybody in town was up for it.
They had been talking about this game for weeks. The 20-game winners from 1953 against the 1968 Wildcats who were the last team to have a winning season (14-13) until the school closed in 1973.
Chuck Rist, who was a senior in 1968, brought all of his announcing equipment so the game would have a proper public address system. He brought his orange-and-black pennant with him to sit on the scorer’s table.
The teams hadn’t played in front of crowds like this before. The nostalgia of the game seemed to hook everybody not only in Catlettsburg but in surrounding towns.
The matchup between Zornes and Collinsworth was worth the price of admission. And the game turned out to be a dream matchup with the game going through 11 ties and 11 lead changes before getting settled in the last three minutes.
“That was as close as a tick on a dog,” Holbrook said afterward. “Great day for the Catlettsburg Wildcats. Everybody walked out of this gym satisfied after watching two great teams fight it out.”
It became physical in the second quarter when Ross was scrambling for a loose ball and knocked Eddy into the scorer’s table. The two players were fine but when it unplugged Rist’s equipment, he was ready to take on the world.
“I thought we were going to have to make him leave the gym,” Holbrook said. “He just displayed that Catlettsburg fire! I loved it!”
Ross and Eddy got up after the collision, brushed themselves off and kept playing.
It was a bruising game with Zornes and Collinsworth flying elbows at each other. Spears broke those two up from going after each other on a couple of occasions.
“Bubby was the peacemaker out there,” said 68 coach Wendell Wheeler. “Glad we had somebody who showed some calm.”
Spears got upset later when Don Eddy fouled him hard into the wall on a breakaway. The paper-thin mat didn’t do much to protect him and he later said he was “seeing stars” from the blow.
However, as physical as the game turned, there was plenty of offense going down. Both teams were using the 3-point shot for the first time and the 53 Wildcats made it work for them with an 11-for-22 shooting.
Surprisingly it was Collinsworth who deliver the most from behind the arc making 8 of 11 attempts. Zornes dared him to shoot from there and Collinsworth kept firing.
“I cannot believe how many of those he hit,” Zornes said. “I wasn’t worried about him hurting us out there but he sure did. He talk to that 3-point shot like a duck takes to water.”
Collinsworth finished with 31 points, but Zornes nearly matched him with 30. They were the stars but they weren’t the only ones putting it in the basket.
The 53 Wildcats jumped ahead 24-14 after one quarter and their crowd was dancing in the aisles. The cheerleaders, with the blousy skirts that went down to their ankles, were leading cheers and that side of the gym was rocking.
However, the 68 Wildcats finally found their feet as Spears, Ross and Adkins were complementing Zornes well. They trailed only 36-33 at the half.
“We let them back in the game,” Holbrook said of the 53 Wildcats, who had led by 13 points. “That aggravated me and they heard about it in the locker room.”
So did everybody else. The wooden doors didn’t hold back Holbrook’s furry.
The 53 Wildcats were a bit more determined in the third quarter but were still outscored 28-24. They went into the fourth quarter training the 68 Wildcats, 61-60.
Trailing 52-48, the 68 Wildcats caught fire, going on a 13-5 run to take a 61-57 advantage. Collinsworth answered with a long 3-pointer to draw closer at 61=60 and it was tight the rest of the way.
Eddy tied the game at 79 with a nice pump fake and inside move around Spears and then Bobby Barker hit a 15-footer to put the 53 team ahead 81-79. They would never trail again and eventually won 87-81 in a crowd-pleasing game that had both stands giving standing ovations.
Eddy scored 20 points with six rebounds while Collinsworth had his 31 points and nine rebounds. Barker scored 11 with eight assists.
Zornes was practically unstoppable inside, making 14-of-21 shots and pulling down 11 rebounds. Spears scored 15, Ross 12 and Adkins 11 in a balanced scoring attack.
“I wish we could play them again,” said Ross, who easily had the most floor burns. “We kind of faded at the end. I hate to lose even to a bunch of good ‘ol boys from Catlettsburg.”
The 53 Wildcats held a 41-30 rebounding advantage which proved pivotal in the game.
“They got us on the boards,” Wheeler said. “They were a lot taller than us overall and it showed. And Collinsworth was hitting those 3-pointers like he’d been shooting them his whole life.”
Catlettsburg’s 1968 team finished 14-13 and was the last Wildcat team to play in the regional tournament, losing to Morgan County in the first round. It concluded a brilliant career for Zornes, the all-time school scoring king with 1,330 points before he moved on to Kentucky Wesleyan.
Catlettsburg’s 1953 team was 20-12 and bowed out to Mt. Sterling in the opening round of the regional tournament. Coach Holbrook ended his career with 169 victories, the most in school history.
1968 CATLETTSBURG (81) – Lauhon 2-8 3-4 7, Spears 4-10 5-6 15, Zornes 14-21 2-3 30, Ross 5-11 1-2 12, Johns 1-4 0-0 2, Adkins 5-6 0-0 11, Rooker 1-2 1-1 3, Webb 1-3 0-0 3. FG: 32-65. FT: 12-16. 3FG: 5-14 (Lauhon 0-1, Spears 2-4, Ross 1-4, Johns 0-3, Adkins 1-1, Webb 1-1). Rebounds: 30 (Lauhon 2, Spears 5, Zornes 11, Ross 5, Johns 2, Adkins 4, Webb 1). Assists: 19 (Lauhon 7, Spears 5, Ross 3, Johns 5). PF: 24. Turnovers: 7.
1953 CATLETTSBURG (87) – Cassell 1-6 1-2 3, Barker 4-10 0-1 11, Eddy 6-10 8-8 20, Pack 2-5 3-5 7, Baier 4-10 0-2 8, Collinsworth 10-13 3-3 31, Blanton 0-2 1-4 1, Scott 2-3 0-0 4, Sloan 1-3 0-0 2. FG: 30-62. FT: 16-25. 3FG: 11-22 (Cassell 0-1, Barker 4-7, Collinsworth 8-11, Blanton 0-1, Scott 0-1). Rebounds: 41 (Cassell 6, Barker 5, Eddy 6, Pack 3, Baer 3, Collinsworth 9, Blanton 4, Scott 2, Sloan 3). Assists: 16 (Barker 8, Eddy 2, Collinsworth 1, Pack 5). PF: 16. Turnovers: 12.
1968 CATLETTSBURG 14 19 28 20 – 81
1953 CATLETTSBURG 24 12 24 27 – 87