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Rock Bridge, Hickman alumni return for 'greatest show in town': basketball

Thursday, January 30, 2014 | 11:14 p.m. CST; updated 1:28 a.m. CST, Friday, January 31, 2014
Rock Bridge fans cheer on the boys basketball team during its rivalry game against Hickman on Thursday at Hickman High School. The Bruins won 59-54.

COLUMBIA — Jim Scanlon couldn’t believe it.

The Rock Bridge boys basketball coach pleaded with the referees. Junior Bruin Nick Norton looked around desperately from his spot on the ground, just outside the 3-point line after having his potential game-tying three blocked. Norton thought he was fouled. Scanlon was sure his player had been fouled.

The buzzer sounded.

Hickman players pounded their chests and raised their hands. A mob of purple- and gold-clad Kewpies fans stormed their rival’s home court.

There was pushing and shoving. There were security guards and megaphones. There was chaos.

The passion of a 37-year-old rivalry manifested in one moment.

***

It’s 372 days later.

No one in the Rock Bridge office knows where Scanlon is. The big game tips off in 30 hours.

The receptionist pages his office; no answer. She calls his name over the school intercom; no response.

His players are in the hallways, laughing with their peers. Maybe he’s drawing up a game plan, hunched over his desk, trying to figure out how to stop Hickman High School scoring leader junior Jimmy Whitt.

But no one knows.

***

The line for tickets at Hickman High School begins three hours before tipoff. The first people in line aren’t students.

Ron Bartlett played for Hickman in 1962. He and his fellow players led the Kewpies to a 29-1 record and a state championship. He is third in line.

He always comes to these games, he says.

He cheers for Rock Bridge.

His children were Bruins, he explains. His daughter is the girls basketball coach at Rock Bridge. Bartlett was the president of the Rock Bridge boosters for two years. He personally designed Rock Bridge’s baseball field, of which he still knows the exact dimensions.

Marilyn Andre stands next to him, clad in Kewpie purple. Andre’s mother and uncle were a part of the first graduating class of Hickman High School in 1928. Her sister graduated as a Kewpie in 1960.

Bartlett and Andre have never met before.

“Do you remember Miss Kitchens?” Andre asks about a former high school math teacher.

“Oh, of course,” Bartlett replies excitedly.

They reminisce on days past. They talk about old restaurants and memories from around the city.

In the midst of a heated rivalry, a community forms.

***

The head she used to wear sits on top of cabinets in an office for everyone to see.

Kay Garnatz was the first ever Hickman Kewpies mascot. She debuted the Kewpie head when she was a senior cheerleader at Hickman in 1969.

For the past 20 years, she has been the assistant to athletic director Doug Mirts. Both Garnatz and Mirts are retiring at the end of this school year.

The beige head’s wide eyes each have 14 crooked painted eyelashes. There are thin wires lining the inside of the eyes and mouth to disguise the identity of the person inside, but leave enough opening to see and breathe.

Forty-five years after she donned the first Kewpie costume, Garnatz stands in the Hickman gym to watch her final crosstown rivalry game against Rock Bridge as a Kewpie.

“You know, I haven’t really thought about it,” Garnatz says. “Sometimes when it’s done, it’s done.”

***

His iPad cover is purple.

Hap Hallstead sports a stylish purple button-up at his place behind the scorer’s table.

His grandfatherly voice booms over the loudspeakers in Hickman’s gym during starting lineups. The crowd goes wild with each name.

His children went to Hickman. Hallstead says he feels like a part of the family around the school. Like many people in the gym, Hallstead has deep connections to this game.

And that resonates with each word.

His voice is clear, despite the roaring crowd and blaring music.

He has a firm voice. His sentences are acute, sharp, to the point. The words carry a sense of authority, as though what he says cannot be wrong.

He’s not a cheerleader with a microphone, he says. But he is the voice of the Hickman Kewpies.

Hallstead has been for the past 10 years.

It’s very special to him, he says. He calls this game “the greatest show in town.”

***

For seven Kewpies and four Bruins players, Thursday night was the last go-round in this historic game.

They will move on to the ranks of storied alumni and one day might return, like so many others, to stand on the other side of this legacy.

“Being a senior, and playing here my last time," Rock Bridge senior Jackson Dubinski says. There's a pause. A deep breath. He takes it all in. Even five or 10 years from now, he knows this will be something he remembers.

"Man. This is just my favorite game."

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

Game coverage: Rock Bridge boys steal comeback victory at Hickman


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