Those representing Covington (Ky.) Holmes High School’s basketball program this weekend in Binghamton will have the unique privilege of participating in their second STOP-DWI Holiday Classic in a week’s time.
Bulldogs coach Jason Booher conducted his version of the tournament bearing that title last weekend in Covington, part of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky metropolitan area. It was the second year of the Kentucky event.
To both his tourney and the Mirabito STOP-DWI Holiday Classic are attached a special significance for Booher, a survivor of what is acknowledged as the deadliest drunk-driving incident in United States history.
Twenty-seven lives were lost, among them that of Booher’s closest friend, in what is known as The Carrollton (Ky.) bus crash in May 1988. Upon return from a youth outing with Radcliffe (Ky.) First Assembly of God, just before 11 p.m., the bus in which eighth-grader Booher and friends traveled was involved in a head-on collision with a pickup truck operated by a drunk driver traveling in the wrong direction on an interstate highway in a rural area of Carroll County, Ky.
Booher, presently in his fourth season coaching Holmes High after guiding Shelby Valley to Kentucky’s Sweet 16 state championship in 2010, has spoken to thousands of gatherings throughout Kentucky and nearby states. He’ll be among featured speakers this weekend, delivering an address he has dubbed “From Tragedy to Championships.”
Part I of his message focuses on the consequences of drinking and experimenting with drugs, and he details the horrific bus crash.
“I tell them that I’ve had more fun in life than anybody, and I’ve never tasted alcohol or done drugs, so I’m a living witness that you can have fun without that stuff,” he said.
Of Part II, he added: “At age 13 I lost my best friend and 26 others and it about killed me. My parents got a divorce, we went through a tough time. My back was against the wall. I would have been labeled an at-risk kid if they’d have labeled that way back then.
“I put a ‘Y’ in the road in my power-point presentation and ask, ‘Which way do you want to go now?’ There’s always Y’s in the road for kids– which way are you going to go?”
Booher coached Shelby Valley High of Pikeville, Ky., to a third-place finish in the 2007 Holiday Classic in Binghamton.
“That’s a first-class tournament they run up there and that gave me an idea of the direction I wanted to go when I started my own Christmas tournament,” he said. “The tournament there is the only one I’ve ever participated in that has an educational side to it as well, and that’s what I liked about it. That made it unique, and that’s what we’ve tried to do here as well.”
Holmes High has drawn Long Island Lutheran for its opener at 2:45 Saturday in what shapes up as the most intriguing of Day 1 games at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Bulldogs feature James “Beetle” Bolden, a junior guard who was recognized as first-team all-state last winter. Point guard Markel McClendon has transferred over from district rival Holy Cross, where as a freshman last season he was the team’s second-leading scorer. He has averaged about five steals per game in the early going this season– “He’s just one of those guys who gets after you,” Booher said.
Armani Housley is the third guard in the lineup, with 6-5 Quinton Chames (8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds last season) and 6-5 shot-blocker Marcus Hill much improved on the offensive end.
“We’re really fast, we’re quick, we’ve got a lot of athleticism. Our team speed will be the first thing you notice,” Booher said.
Of the Bulldogs’ primary mission during its northern excursion, Booher said: “Our goal first and foremost for the season is to win the Sweet Sixteen state championship in Kentucky. In order to do that we’ll have to beat a couple high-level teams. I’m looking for the best competition we can play during Christmas, when you don’t have school and we can really just focus on basketball.”