I have just completed my 25th year of covering high school sports at the St. Louis American. In the coming weeks, I will be providing you with some of my greatest memories from the past 25 years; and there have been many of them. For my first installment, I will be taking a look at some of the biggest events that I had the honor of covering.
Rivalry Day (1995): On a fall day midway through football season, I had the choice to attend two great rivalry games. On the Missouri side, there was the annual clash between Hazelwood Central and Hazelwood East. On the Illinois side, perennial power East St. Louis was taking on rival East St. Louis Lincoln. My decision was easy. Why not attend both games. The day started in North County as I took in the first half of East vs. Central in front of an overflow crowd at Hazelwood Central. East went on to take a victory over its rivals from Central.
At halftime, I hopped into my car and headed to the East Side. When I arrived inside of Jordan Stadium, I was greeted with an incredible sight. One side of the stadium was filled with people clad in orange and blue, the colors of the East St. Louis Flyers. The other side was filled with orange and black, the colors of the Lincoln Tigers. It was quite possibly the most electric high school football atmosphere that I’ve experienced here in the St. Louis area. Adding more spice to the day was the fact that Lincoln actually had a chance to upset East St. Louis on this day. The Tigers actually led 19-7 in the fourth quarter, but East Side rallied with two fourth quarter touchdowns to take a 21-19 lead. Lincoln had one last chance to win the game with a last-second field goal, but the attempt missed and the Flyers escaped with a dramatic victory. It was one of my favorite days of covering high school football during my career.
McDonald’s All-American Game (1995): The Kiel Center in downtown St. Louis was the host for the nation’s most prestigious postseason high school All-Star basketball game. The game featured a host of future National Basketball Association greats such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups and Antawn Jamison. There was also a Show-Me State flavor as St. Louisan Ryan Robertson of St. Charles West and Kansas City’s Derek Hood for Central High were also participants in the game. The day before the game, I had the honor of serving as a judge in the slam-dunk competition, which was held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Vince Carter won the contest as he brought the house down by taking off from the free throw line to throw down a dunk.
MLK Basketball Classic (1999): The St. Louis Gateway Classic annually put on a tremendous basketball event on Martin Luther King Day. What started off as an event at smaller high school venues ended up at the Kiel Center. The 1999 event was the biggest as it featured the “Border War” between area powerhouse teams Vashon and East St. Louis. More than 15,000 fans battled through a snowstorm to get downtown to see this big showdown. East St. Louis was led by All-American performer Darius Miles while Vashon was led by standouts Joel Shelton and Jimmy McKinney. My friend Maurice Scott kept the crowd lively with his passionate voice as the public address announcer and the game was exciting from start to finish. In the end, it was East St. Louis that took the victory and the bragging rights for a season. The following year, it was a similar atmosphere at the Kiel Center for the MLK Classic, only it was Vashon that won the bragging rights in the rematch.
Chaminade vs. McCluer North on ESPN (2011): It is always a special honor when ESPN comes to town to broadcast a high school basketball game. That was the case when top-ranked Chaminade took on McCluer North at a jam-packed Lindenwood University in St. Charles. Chaminade was led by National Player of the Year Bradley Beal while McCluer North was led by super scorer B.J. Young. On this day, it was Chaminade who dominated the action as Beal scored 40 points to lead the Red Devils to a 77-56 victory. The two teams would meet in a rematch in March in the state quarterfinals with McCluer North taking a 57-56 victory en route to the state championship.
CBC vs. East St. Louis, Gateway Scholars Classic (2016): The Gateway Scholars Classic is a high-level football event that is held annually at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium in East St. Louis. The 2016 clash between East St. Louis and CBC featured a pair of future state-championship teams with tremendous amounts of talent. It was an electric atmosphere as the stadium was filled to capacity and the fans were treated to a great show that wasn’t decided until the final seconds of the game. A 10-yard touchdown run by Jarrell Anderson with 10 seconds left gave East St. Louis a thrilling 32-28 victory.
Trinity vs. Lutheran North Playoff Showdown (2017): There was a year-long buildup on social media for this game between these two small-school football powers that would decide a district championship. People were on the parking lot at Lutheran North hours in advance. An estimated crowd of 5,000 showed up at Lutheran North for a game that featured two teams with high-level talent and contrasting styles. Lutheran North relied on its powerful ground game while Trinity utilized its speed and big-play ability in the passing game. The game exceeded the hype as Lutheran North outlasted Trinity 48-46 in an instant classic.
DeSmet vs. CBC Football: ESPN pays a visit: The St. Louis football scene was in the national spotlight this past season as battle between Metro Catholic Conference rivals CBC and DeSmet was televised on the ESPN Network. On this night, the Spartans of DeSmet dominated the game as they rolled to a 42-14 victory. The victory was the first over the rival Cadets in a decade and it also broke CBC’s stranglehold on the Metro Catholic Conference.