|Contributed Photo. Legendary Highlands Boys Basketball Head Coach Ken Shields (right) and his wife Marie (left) ventured to Bourbon County on June 1 to watch his granddaughters run in the Class 2A, Region 4 meet.|
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Legendary Highlands Bluebirds and Northern Kentucky University Norse Head Coach Ken Shields and his wife Marie have been seen a lot at various Highlands sporting events supporting one of their 16 grandchildren.
That started when the oldest in Carter New began high school in the fall of 2008. The Highlands football team won four state championships in New's four years of high school.
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But that support hit a higher level on June 1 when Shields and family watched five granddaughters partake in the Class 2A, Region 4 meet at Bourbon County. The five helped Highlands to a region runner-up finish. Three are sisters in sophomore Ruby Smith, freshman Laney Smith and seventh grader Franny Smith. The other two are junior Emmie Brewer and eighth grader Shelby Shields. All five will participate in the Class 2A state meet at the University of Kentucky Outdoor Track and Field Complex in Lexington on Friday starting at 10 a.m.
"It is extremely unique to think that five of them are in this event," Shields said. "We have our own Fab Five. All five of my kids got married and they all live within five minutes of Marie and I. So needless to say, we get to see a lot of them and that's exciting."
Laney Smith won the 400 meter dash in 59.58 seconds. Laney Smith has played varsity in four sports this year. She made a huge splash during soccer season scoring a team-high 21 goals and recording eight assists for a team-high 50 points.
"It's almost like everyone around us knows who we are," Laney Smith said. "Having that family there means a lot to everybody. It's really fun. It's really awesome to be part of a big family. Even having Coach Shields there giving you feedback, we're super lucky."
Laney Smith also played basketball in the winter seeing some varsity action. Alessandro said she stepped forward during the fall for the cross country team in a huge way. Laney Smith said she does not know if she'll run in some meets this fall.
"An athlete is an athlete. Laney ran cross country for me until this year," Alessandro said. "I was down a few runners at the (Northern Kentucky Athletic) Conference meet. I called to see if she was available. She came out and ran in what was one of the state-leading times. She wasn't on the team until late in the season. Laney and her sisters are all solid athletes and contribute."
Ruby Smith also runs cross country. She helped the Highlands girls to a Class 2A state runner-up finish in the fall.
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Franny Smith helped the two-mile relay team finish second in 10 minutes, 14.65 seconds. She is thankful to watch her two sisters as they entered high school.
"Watching my older sisters go through it and just being my own person, it's nice to see them," Franny Smith said. "They gave an example to me. It's really nice to be able to run at a high level because it helps me specifically challenge myself. If I'm able to help the team, it's good that role has kind of changed."
Emmie Brewer helped the 800 relay team to a second-place finish in 1:51.89. Brewer will also run in the 400 relay and triple jump at state.
Brewer is also on the dance team. She said things were not the same this year at basketball and football games this year without the full student section known as the O-Zone at the games. But there is a silver lining.
"I'm excited. Things are starting to look better finally. I was scared for my senior year," Brewer said. "I didn't want it to be super restrictive with all the COVID restrictions. I'm hoping it's a little bit more normal."
Shelby Shields is glad eighth graders can compete on varsity in track and field in Kentucky. That is not the case in other states.
"I'm happy because it's given me more experience because our middle school season was cut short because of COVID," Shelby Shields said. "I know I'm still in middle school and I can grow from going against older people. Maybe I can learn new tips, which is really helpful."
The five know they have a standard to hit after watching their cousin Abe Hils play on the first boys basketball state championship in school history. Hils also helped the baseball team to a ninth straight district tournament title this year.
"Abe is one of the hardest workers I know," Ruby Smith said. "My grandpa always said Abe puts up more shots than anyone else. He is always in his back yard working and I think that motivates the rest of us because we all look up to Abe and to each other to work hard and be able to reach our goals."
Highlands Head Boys Basketball Coach Kevin Listerman mentioned Coach Shields as a godfather figure at the state tournament. Highlands won five region championships with Shields as head coach. Coach Shields taught Listerman's Dad Mike at the old St. Thomas High in Fort Thomas before Mike Listerman became one of his assistants. Kevin Listerman played four years for Coach Shields at NKU helping the Norse to Division II runner-up finishes in 1996 and 1997.
"I've been around Fort Thomas for many, many years more so than (any other place) in actuality. It was really neat to see the basketball pick up and have the success (the Bluebirds) did," Coach Shields said. "But the culmination was winning the whole thing. Kevin was one of the most brilliant players I ever had. As a point guard, he was a coach on the floor. Abe is such a very exceptional young man."
Laney Smith knows she will have to step forward for basketball in the winter. The Bluebirds graduate five seniors from a team that won a seventh straight 36th District Tournament championship and lost in the region semifinals to Dixie Heights. Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey said she hopes the girls develop more of a gym rat mentality going forward to push over the top.
"I think that especially playing soccer this year and wanting to get that state championship and losing in the first round of state really just fueled me more," Laney Smith said. "Then the boys basketball team winning state, I think that motivates everyone else in the school. Highlands can win state championships in multiple sports. I think it would be cool for another Shields cousin to get a state championship as well."
Laney Smith entered high school fully aware that her high school coaches may teach some things different from what Coach Shields and other family members may have taught her in the different sports. She said the key is finding balance.
"I think growing up, my Dad and (Coach Shields) really nailed the core values and lessons in how to play the game into my head. I feel like I've played my game my entire life," Laney Smith said. "I have had coaches give me feedback and not necessarily agree with what they say. Sometimes during basketball, my shot was never really, really good. My grandpa taught me how to follow through. The basketball coaches know what he coaches. So I think, especially (Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey and assistant coach Bert Richey) knew how to coach me based on how my grandpa coached me. My grandpa really focused on follow-through and finding the back of the net. (Coach Walz-Richey and Coach Richey) really tried to incorporate that into the game as well."
Highlands has won four state championships in track and field on the girls side and three on the boys side. The Highlands boys last won it in 2014 and the girls won four straight between 2008 to 2011.