With a wind chill of -15 and snowball donuts mysteriously appearing across town due to the gusty wintry conditions, one would think any self-respecting Knoxite would find perfect reason to stay huddled at home in front of their fireplaces sipping hot cocoa, or flipping aimlessly through television channels, free to let the blizzards blow by outside while they stay content indoors where there aren’t any icicles. Why then, is every window dark and every driveway empty all across Knox each frozen January evening? Because, instead of cuddling up at home, everyone has crowded themselves into the Keystone’s gym, where the tantalizing smell of the concession stand mixes with the sweat and tension emanating from the hardwood, and the weight of the final three seconds on the buzzer has become heavier than the threat of driving home in a blizzard. Where players pour their hearts out on the floor to put up two points and popcorn is just an added bonus on the night. Because, despite the wet snowflakes and frostbitten toes, winter belongs to basketball season.
And that’s just from the spectators’ point of view; for the boys and girls duking it out on the court, that final three seconds on the clock is a whole different ball game: one that’s even more intense on the hardwood than from the bleachers. That is backed by hours of practice and the tight bonds of a team. That is fueled by the shouting of fans and the encouragement coaches, and driven by the chance at victory, hovering just within reach. That grows more epic with each game as the countdown to the end of regular season begins.
In anticipation for that playoff milestone, the Keystone Panthers varsity boys’ basketball team has worked around a height disadvantage and the graduation of nearly their entire starting lineup from last season to earn a current record of 9-5 overall and 4-2 for KSAC South. That places them in second for KSAC, and well within reach of the KSAC title overall.
Under the direction of wise veteran coach Greg Heath, along with assistant coach Matt Clark, the boys are ready have utilized smooth ball movement and tough rebounding, along with gritted teeth and just a bit of swag, to get them this far. Now, led by starters Adam Lencer, Ryan Wolbert, Alex Graff, Tim Haines, and either Jake Coursen, Cameron Henry, or Micah Sherry, the boys are ready to buckle down and take their remaining regular season games by storm, before moving on to blow away play-offs.
The Lady Panthers, who, like the boys, are facing playing as a “short” team this season, have used tenacious defense and speed to fight to a record of 9-6 overall and 4-1 for KSAC South so far this season. They are currently tied for first in KSAC South with Karns City.
The varsity girls start Kennedy McLendon, Mallory Reed, Shayla Chapman, Maddie Johnson, and McKenna Shick, and are led by the unmatchable focus of coach Barry Foust. The Lady Panthers are confident they will come away from the regular season with seven more wins out of their seven remaining games before heading to play-offs to claim the KSAC South crown.
And so both the varsity boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are ready to continue clawing their way to victory, with nothing they can’t overcome standing in their way. After all, the Panthers have the beat of the feet, don’t they?
With such intense competition (and popcorn available to boot) it’s no wonder winter belongs to basketball…and now, cancer does, to, as the sixth annual Battle of the Burg, a night of varsity basketball between Keystone and Union that donates all proceeds to the Clarion County Cancer Center, is fast approaching on February 5. As a night when giving and basketball come together to thread the community ever closer, the Battle of the Burg truly embodies what winter means in Knox: community, fun, and b-ball!