Caldwell Schools Claimed 3 Region Titles in 11-Year Run


It has been 33 years since Caldwell County last played in the boys’ 2nd Region basketball tournament championship game.

The Tigers fell to Travis Ford and Madisonville-North Hopkins 55-47 in the 1987 title tilt.

However, there was a time when multiple schools in Caldwell County owned regional championship trophies — all in an 11-year period.

Fredonia High School (1954), Princeton Dotson (1963) and Caldwell County (1964) each enjoyed their moment in the sun at the Kentucky state basketball tournament.

And while none of them brought home the ultimate prize — a state championship trophy — they still maintain their place among some of the best teams in the history of the 2nd Region.

The Fredonia Yellow Jackets opened the 1953-54 season on a tear. Lopsided wins over St. Agnes (98-21), Salem (127-52) and Smithland (92-58) were a portend of things to come for the small school in the northwest corner of the county.

The Yellow Jackets, coached by Ed Hickey, hit the 100-point plateau at least two more times that season while ripping through most teams on the schedule.

However, Lyon County proved a nemesis that season. The teams split regular-season meetings. Fredonia’s other losses that season included two setbacks in a Purchase-Pennyrile tournament in Murray and one in the Three Rivers Conference tourney.

The Yellow Jackets carried a 27-4 record into the district tourney, where they easily dispatched Trigg County 71-43 in the semifinals. But Lyon awaited in the championship. The Lyons edged Fredonia 58-52 for the district crown.

Despite its sterling record, Fredonia was not considered among the favorites to reach the 2nd Region title game in Hopkinsville. Instead, Madisonville was considered the top team from the top half of the bracket which included Fredonia, while Lyon was considered the favorite from the bottom half of the draw.

The Yellow Jackets pulled away in the second half in the opener, beating Clifty 74-56 behind 22 points from Billy Hickey.

That put Fredonia in the semifinals against Madisonville.

The two teams did not meet during the regular season, and the Maroons opened up a 32-25 halftime lead in the regional tourney. But the Yellow Jackets came back to clip Madisonville 56-53 and earn a berth in the championship game. Hickey hit the go-ahead free throw in the final seconds to break a 53-53 tie. Hickey finished with 16 points and Clayton Tosh had 25 for the Jackets.

Meanwhile, Lyon was upset in the semifinal round by Charleston 67-54, meaning Fredonia would face the Bearcats instead of the Lyons with a berth in the state tournament on the line.

Like Fredonia, Charleston was a district runner-up, falling in the 7th District finals to Madisonville.

The Yellow Jackets again trailed at the half, 23-22, but took the lead for good in the third quarter and went on to beat Charleston 54-47 and capture the region’s top prize. David Phelps had 15 points and Junior Brown 12 in the championship game.

Hickey, Phelps and Brown were named to the all-tourney team.

At state, Fredonia drew the opening game of the tournament against 13th Region champion Clay County.

Fredonia bolted to a 19-12 lead after one quarter, but Clayton Stivers scored 27 points to lead a Clay comeback. A cold-shooting third quarter also hindered the Yellow Jackets.

In front of 9,500 fans at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, the Jackets’ splendid run came to an end, 57-46, in the first round contest.

Phelps had 15 points and Hickey 12 in the state tournament affair.

There is some question, however, if Fredonia is “technically” the first team to represent Caldwell County at the Sweet 16.

In 1937, Princeton newspapers reported that Shady Grove was the first “Caldwell” team to play in the state tournament.

The Shady Grove community is located just across the county line in Crittenden County. But for many years the school was jointly owned by Caldwell and Crittenden counties, since it had numerous students from the northern part of Caldwell County.

Shady Grove also competed in the “county” school league and was a part of many “County Tournaments,” which included numerous schools throughout Caldwell County at the time.

The Shady Grove Bearcats won their only 2nd Region in 1937, going 33-2 that year behind the play of 6-4 center Carlisle Towery, who would go on to become an All-American at Western Kentucky University.

Besides Shady Grove, Dotson High School played in state tournaments prior to 1954 in the old Kentucky State Athletic League, which was the governing body for black schools.

Dotson competed in the West-41 District, which was basically all of the schools in the western end of the state. And teams didn’t necessarily have to win their district to be invited to the state tournament.

Black schools were not eligible to join the Kentucky High School Athletic Association until the 1956-57 season.

Few records exist on Dotson High School basketball teams prior to that, but the Bearcat teams of the early 1960s were well chronicled.

The 1962-63 Dotson quintet may have been the best ever assembled in Caldwell County.

With a starting lineup that included Dwight Smith, Greg Smith, Scottie Edwards, Marvin Copeland and Felix Boyd, Dotson High School was tabbed by many to win the regional title in 1963.

The Bearcats, regional runners-up a year earlier, didn’t disappoint.

Dotson scored over 100 points seven times during the season, including one stretch where the Bearcats topped the century mark in four straight outings.

Dwight Smith scored 48 points in a 115-76 victory over Madisonville Rosenwald in November.

By the end of the year, teams were doing all they could to slow down the Bearcats.

After rolling to the 5th District championship, Dotson ran into Christian County’s slow-down tactics in the regional tournament in Cadiz.

The Bearcats trailed early, but eventually got the lead and held on to beat Christian 32-27.
Dotson then routed Trigg County 52-33 in the semifinals and knocked off Earlington 54-36 in the championship.

The Smith brothers outscored Earlington by themselves in the finals — Dwight netting 19 points and Greg getting 18. They, along with Edwards, were named to the all-tournament team as the Bearcats improved to 27-4.

Dotson, with just 48 high school students (30 boys), was the smallest school in the state tournament at Freedom Hall in Louisville.

The Bearcats had a “devil” of a time at the Sweet 16.

Dwight Smith had a big game in the opener, scoring 30 points and grabbing 24 rebounds in a 76-60 victory over the Garrett Black Devils from Floyd County.

The Bearcats then faced Owensboro in the quarterfinals. In what proved to be the final game in school history — the high school at Dotson was consolidated with Caldwell the next season — the Red Devils defeated the Bearcats 58-44 behind Charles Taylor’s 26 points and 11 rebounds.

The Smiths were reportedly slowed in the second-round contest with nagging injuries — a wrist for Dwight, an ankle for Greg.

Dwight Smith, a senior who averaged almost 25 points a game that season, was named to the state all-tournament team.

He was the only senior on that Dotson team, with the other four starters moving to Caldwell County the next year.

That would prove instrumental in Caldwell County winning its only boys’ 2nd Region championship in the 1963-64 season.

Caldwell won the 5th District tournament as expected that year, but then drew co-favorite Christian County in the first round of the regional tournament at West Hopkins.

The Tigers had lost to the Colonels 61-52 during the season, and the winner of the rematch was expected to go on and claim the championship.

In what was anticipated as a tight affair, Caldwell built a 31-17 lead at halftime and went on to rout Christian 66-42 at Rabbit Ridge.

The Dotson connection was pivotal. Edwards had 17 points to lead the Tigers while Copeland and Greg Smith each had 14.

In the next game, Smith had 27 points as the Tigers rolled past Hopkinsville 79-53.

In the finals, Caldwell raced out to a 29-13 lead after one quarter and thumped Madisonville Rosenwald 84-64.

Danny Rasco had 26 points to lead the Tigers in the title tilt while Smith had 20.

Smith, Rasco and Edwards were named to the all-tournament team.

At the state tournament in Lexington, the Tigers were matched with McCreary County in the first round. Despite struggling at times, Caldwell advanced with a 62-55 victory over the Indians behind 17 points from Edwards.

Things started out much better for the Tigers in their quarterfinal round match against Butch Beard’s Breckinridge County squad.

Caldwell led 19-12 after one quarter. But foul problems hurt the Tigers in the second period and Breckinridge got to halftime with a 38-33 lead.

The Tigers battled back to within 50-48 through three quarters.

Harry Byrd tied the game at 58-58 with 3:22 to play.

But the 4th Region champion Bearcats then ran the clock down, and got the winning bucket from Beard with just one second remaining. He was also fouled on the play, and iced the victory with a free throw, giving Breckinridge the 61-58 decision.

Smith had 19 points and Copeland 18 in that game, but the Tigers fell in front of 12,500 fans, finishing the year with a 24-7 record.

A balanced team, Caldwell ended the season with five double-figure scorers. Smith led the team at 16.1 points per game, followed by Edwards at 12.5, Byrd and Rasco at 11.4 and Copeland at 11.3.

That was the last time a team from Caldwell County played in a boys state basketball tournament — 56 years ago.

Fredonia High School, which was closed in 1972, and Dotson High School are long gone, with only Caldwell County High School remaining to try to add to the county’s state tournament history.

The Tigers have made it as far as the regional finals just once since the 1964 2nd Region champions. The 1986-87 squad led late in the fourth quarter before falling to Madisonville in the regional title game.

(However, Caldwell has won three girls’ 2nd Region championships since the last boys title — 1976, 1992 and 1993.)

But Caldwell County did have its run, with special teams from Fredonia, Dotson and Caldwell each getting a turn on the big stage.

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