The KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 wrapped up at Rupp Arena on Sunday. It’s a place where remarkable moments happen on and off the floor that people will not forget for the rest of their lives. For many families, taking a trip to the Sweet 16 every year is a sacred tradition. One person who never breaks that tradition is Darell Wells.
This year’s Sweet 16 marked Wells’ 70th-straight year in the stands. The last ten years of the amazing streak, Wells has been unable to see the basketball games. Wells lost sight in his left eye in a school bus accident when he was eight years old. A decade ago glaucoma rendered him completely blind.
Wells first attended the Sweet 16 at Memorial Collesium in 1950. That year Layfayette took home the coveted title. The following year he skipped school to sit in the balcony at Memorial Coliseum, starting a streak that would continue for the next 68 years. In 1952, Darell witnessed the most entertaining team he’s ever seen at the state tournament, the Cuba Cubs. A small high school in Graves County that closed in 1977, Wells had never seen anything like Cuba.
“They played like the Harlem Globetrotters,” said Wells. “They wowed the crowd. They were so fun to watch. I’ll always remember that team.”
After 1978 the tournament moved back and forth between Freedom Hall and Memorial Coliseum, and of course, despite the change in venue, Wells went every year.
“I used to pack up with my buddies every year, and we would go rain or shine,” Wells said. “We would pack up food and go for all five days. We would have homemade food to last us all week. When it was at Rupp, me and my friends would stay at the Hyatt then walk back and forth between sessions. We loved being together, eating great food, talking about sports and playing pranks on each other.”
Naturally, the crew shrank in size. He eventually replaced his friends with his wife, Wanda. If it weren’t for Wanda, Darell would not have been able to be in Rupp for his favorite moment, one he could not even see.
In 2013, Wells’ Favorite moment came when his alma mater, the Madison Central Indians, won the state title. Future Wildcat, Dominque Hawkins sparked a 16-point comeback in the championship game to help Madison Central win the 2013 state championship at the buzzer.
Naturally, Hawkins became one of Well’s favorite Wildcats. Even though Darell never got to play in the Sweet 16 with Madison Central, being in the crowd to witness championship was the thrill of a lifetime. That’s one of the many reasons he’ll never miss a Sweet 16, even if he can’t see what’s happening on the court.
“High school is the purest form of sport,” said Wells. “Seeing large numbers of a hometown fanbase show up and support their local team is special.”
This year, his daughter Denyce took him to the event where it’s still a family affair. He gets eight tickets to the tournament each year, and a whole new group of family members attends. Wells plans to experience more memorable moments in the future at Rupp Arena.
“I’ve had some of the best times of my life at the Sweet 16, but I’ve seen so much, I’ve forgotten more than most people will ever experience at the Sweet 16.”