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Harlan players, fans enjoy All ‘A’ experience

RICHMOND — Once their home away from home about this time every year, the Harlan Green Dragons are back at the state All “A” Classic at Eastern Kentucky University after an 18-year absence.

Harlan made nine previous trips to the state All “A” Classic, including the first tournament in 1990 at Memorial Coliseum on the University of Kentucky campus. The Green Dragons had their most success on the McBrayer Arena floor, where this year’s tournament is being held, with seven trips in eight years from 1993 to 2000, including state championships in 1994 and 1995.

“This has been wonderful, for the kids particularly,” said Harlan Independent Schools Superintendent C.D. Morton. “None of them have had that experience. Charles David (Morton, a senior on this year’s team and Morton’s son) is 18 and it’s been 18 years since we’ve been here, but for me the experience of watching Charles (Thomas), Michael (Jones), Todd (Cox), Casey (Lester) and Nathan (Blanton) and all those guys was an awesome thing.”

Morton said the All “A” experience is special for everyone involved in the school.

“For our school to have something to rally around has been really good,” he said. “There has been a boost to the morale and a positive feel in the hallways. I’m glad the kids will have an opportunity to experience this — every one of them, including the cheerleaders, the fans and parents. I think it sets the stage for them coming back.”

“This is a great experience for our school,” said Harlan High School Principal Britt Lawson. “The atmosphere, climate and culture help bring us together as a family. We’re very excited to be and be a part of this.”

Harlan coach Derrick Akal led five girls teams to the All “A” Classic state tournament and was an assistant in 2007 when the Cumberland boys made their second and final appearance in the state All “A” Classic. Akal said the experience gained this year is especially valuable with a young squad that features four sophomores in the starting lineup.

“It’s good experience for these kids and good for the teams behind them,” Akal said. “I think it will make them hungry to come back, but there are no guarantees.”