Athletic coaches working the concession stands at York high school sports events in the early 2000s got to keep a chunk of the money they made to buy themselves new school sports apparel.
Jerry Kemp is not unusual in that he’s still wearing York Cougars gear from 15 years ago when Ivory Latta was filling up the Cougar Dome. Huge crowds came to watch Latta score thousands of points, and they inevitably visited Kemp’s concession stand, fattening the coaches’ athletic gear fund.
It’s just one of the lasting impacts of Latta’s six years of unforgettable basketball at York. And it’s another reason that the community cherishes its greatest athletic star and her endearing personality.
“She can come home and go through York and she’ll say, ‘I’m getting ready to come through York, but I might stop a little bit.’ That means it’s gonna be two or three hours,” said Chenna Latta, Ivory’s mother.
Latta was faithfully supported during her time in York and maybe it was that support that prompted her to play the game of her life Feb. 28, 2003. That night the defending state champ Cougars crushed Belton-Honea Path 110-71 in the third round of the state playoffs.
It was Latta’s final home game at the cramped and ear-shattering Cougar Dome. She left the York crowd with a game they’ll never forget, scoring a single-game state record 70 points and hitting 14 3-pointers, both marks that still stand. The fire marshal came the closest to stopping Latta and she nearly outscored the visiting team on her own, hitting the 70-point mark with three free throws late in the game.
Fifteen years on, relive that incredible night from the people who remember it best, starting with this interactive graphic:
Cristi Kemp, former York girls’ JV basketball coach and varsity stat-keeper: It was the normal situation for an Ivory crowd. The fire marshal had to close the doors, as usual. She would draw people from far away to come see her, so it was just always crowded and fun.
Chenna Latta, Ivory’s mother: Everybody was just one, it was awesome. Ladies who were in their 70s and 80s would be there early to save a seat.
Dominic Manerra, York fire marshal: The moment that I got out of my vehicle in the parking lot, you could really feel the energy in the whole area and what was about to happen.
Mike Smith, longtime York athletic trainer: The dome, I think the sign on the wall said it would seat like 750, 760 people. And I can’t back it up but I feel sure there were always 800 in there. And we probably turned away another 200 because they didn’t get there in time. People would come to the dome, pack the dome to watch Ivory and the girls. The boys would play in front of 200 or less.
Mikaela Arnold, Belton-Honea Path player: The fire marshal had to come over the loudspeaker and tell people if they did not have a seat that they had to go. I couldn’t hear myself think it was so loud.
Manerra: Here’s the police calling me over there saying ‘this lady wants to talk to you,’ and she says, ‘we drove here and my daughter is a senior and this is her last game and you mean to tell me I’m not gonna be able to see her play (for Belton-Honea Path)?’ ‘Mam, I’m sorry. We are max capacity.’ I grew up in York and I went to school there. That is the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in that gymnasium.
Ivory Latta: Some of my family members were outside and I think they got in, but I don’t know how. I guess because they said they were my family members, or something like that.
Chenna Latta: We would go to our family that were trying to come, we would go sneak and open the door in the back. We had to!
Sandi Johnson, fan and York school district employee: You could feel it moving, literally moving. I had to leave, it was too much for me because it was so crowded. People were yelling and screaming and carrying on. You couldn’t even hear yourself think.
Ivory Latta: If you made a layup then you were gonna hit one of the fans. A whole crowd of people standing up. That whole gym was, like, crazy.
Arsonia Stroud, former York head girls’ basketball coach: (Ivory) just walked in, her usual smiling self. She told all the seniors, and all the kids, “We’re gonna have fun tonight.” Just dancing. “We’re gonna have fun tonight.”
Ivory Latta: I just remember having a whole bunch of energy that day.
Ivory Latta: I do remember shooting an air ball first shot. You know how you just pretend you wipe your hands off? “Something wrong with that ball, man! It’s not me!” And after that, it was pretty much on.
Jason Roberts, classmate and current York Middle School P.E. teacher and coach: She was playing Around The World, man. She’d come down and take one from the right side, the right center, she’d take one from the middle. She made like nine or 10 in a row. She’d go here, here, here, and then come back around.
Felicia Hemphill, teammate and fellow senior: Every time she shot it up it was just going in, going in, going in.
Lindsay Capistran, teammate: I ended up leading the region the two years I played with (Ivory) in assists, because you pass and it’s gonna go in.
You scrimmage each other in practice and I was on defense and Ivory was on offense. Defense was kind of my specialty so I was put on Ivory. She was going between her legs and doing all this stuff and it kind of froze me. And she dribbled the ball through my legs. I remembered being so embarrassed but “you know what? That’s Ivory Latta.” Yeah, you could very easily get caught up just watching.
Smith: You sit back and you watch and the ball is halfway there, and you say “Count it!” “Count it!” One of those nights.
Charles Latta, Ivory’s father: Right at the beginning of the second half she came across the court and stopped and she hit one way out there. And she looked at me and said “it’s on now!”
Stroud: When I went home and watched the film from that game, Ivory was off the screen. She couldn’t miss. And when she was hitting them coming over half court, it was like, “wow!” They didn’t know whether to pick her up at half court, or she’d blow by them, or let her come over. She was shooting from the jump circle. It was amazing.
Ivory Latta: I shot the first air ball, then I came down and did a layup, so the crowd was like, “okay, okay.” Then I came down and I hit two 3’s. I was looking at that video one day and I was like, “yo, I was out of control.” I was shooting so far out that I don’t think I even realized. I was in a zone. In a zone. I’m looking at myself, like, “who in the world is this child?”
Watch each of Ivory Latta’s 14 3-pointers here:
‘Gotta’ get my girl going’
Stroud: What I remember is how (Ivory) wanted Felicia (Hemphill) to have a good game… Felicia didn’t average over 10 points a game and she just kept encouraging her and feeding her the ball and Felicia scored the most points she ever scored. Twenty-two points. I’ll never forget it.
Hemphill: The first half of the game, I ended up with three fouls. So we went to the locker room and coach Stroud was like, “look, you get any more fouls we’ll have to sit you down.”
Ivory Latta: She had been playing well up to that point. We gotta’ get my girl going, you know?
Hemphill: So I went back out and I guess everybody was paying attention to Ivory. Of course she’s gonna score her points, but people didn’t realize that she also passed the ball very well. So she ended up passing the ball off to me and they’re not thinking I’m gonna shoot so I end up taking it. I ended up with 19 points. I didn’t even realize we were so close to 100 points because we were so zoned out playing defense. But I could hear everybody standing up because the little Cougar Dome was so small. So we went down like twice and Ivory shot the 3 and she missed it. And the third time it came around she was gonna take the shot but she passed it off to me and I said, ‘okay, I’m just gonna take it,’ and it went in!
Ivory Latta: I think I was more happy for her than I was for myself. She couldn’t miss and she was guarding their point guard too. She was playing on both ends.
Hemphill: I never had a lot of points, I was always the defensive person. So they weren’t looking for me. They were probably thinking, “if she shoots, she’s probably not gonna make it,” but that’s what practice is for.
Frankie Wofford, longtime York basketball scoreboard/clock operator: Before the end of (Ivory’s) eighth grade year people began coming up to me saying, “how many more points does she need to break Allison Feaster’s (career scorign) record?” It wasn’t that I got tired of people asking me, I really didn’t know. So that’s when I started doing all the records and going back through The Herald and microfilm in the library.
Kemp: I kept the stat sheet and I remember counting the number of 3-pointers she had and showing coach Stroud. “Look at this!” To see it happen and then to start counting, count up points -- because you start to lose track how many -- then just realizing what was happening. I didn’t know what the record was. I was just trying to keep up.
Wofford: She had about 35, 36 points at halftime. I’m thinking “she’s got a shot at this game.” She was gonna break a lot of records but that was gonna be the hardest one to break. I told the referees at half that we had another game ball set aside and to swap the game balls out if she does it.
Smith: Frankie Wofford said, “I think she can break the scoring record.” He showed me what the record was and I said, “I’m gonna tell Arsonia.” Let’s let her at least break the record. You’ve already scored 100 on the team and you’ve got them by 25 points, what’s two or three more?
Stroud: She came out of the game and I didn’t even know she was close to 70. They told us she needed three more points to make 70 points. And I thought, “is that not nice? Well, she’s a senior, she’s done all this for this community, she deserves it.”
Paula Blackwell, former York assistant (and head) girls’ basketball coach: If I’d known anyone on their staff I would have felt more comfortable maybe sliding down there and saying, “hey, here’s the situation. We’re gonna put her back in, she’s just in there to score two points.” But we didn’t really know anybody, but what we did was we called timeout, we told them, “Ivory’s going back in,” and I can’t remember if we told them how many points she had but we told them she’s in there to pass and make one shot.
How many times are you gonna have a player that gets that close? You don’t want to deny them.
Ivory Latta: I don’t remember who said it but somebody going, “she had what?” When you’re out there playing and your adrenaline is going and the crowd’s in it, I didn’t even know how many points. I was like, “why’s she taking me out?” even though we’re beating them by 30. You still just want to play.
Blackwell: We called that timeout and told her “you score two points.” She’s the kind, it wouldn’t have bothered her to say, “you need to score two points.” Some kids get all tight. When she came out, I was like, “hey, you just set the scoring record.” And she was like, “what was it?” “Sixty-seven points.” She was like, “no way!” I don’t think she realized it either.
Wofford: I hit the horn. I had to buzz it for probably 10 or 12 seconds to get the referee’s attention to stop the game. That night, Ivory could have hit 90. But she was dishing off to her teammates.
Capistran: We just didn’t keep up with it. Half the time we didn’t know until the next day when the newspaper or someone would say that she broke a record. And she didn’t know.
Gene Graham, longtime sports reporter from York: (The Herald’s) Barry (Byers) turned to me a few seconds before the game ended and said, “Gene, I just saw a high school basketball player score 70 points. Can you believe that?” There’s a reason Ivory Latta is the all-time leading scorer in the history of high school basketball in South Carolina. And there’s a reason she averaged something like 45 points a game. She is the greatest high school athlete I have ever seen, male or female, any sport.
Saying thank you
Kemp: For that to be (Ivory’s) last home game was just a perfect ending. It was standing room-only. It was just a lot of fun in that gym.
Stroud: I think she probably wanted to entertain. She wanted to leave them with -- this is what I think -- with a thank you. It wasn’t a show-off. She wanted to say thank you.
Ivory Latta: Absolutely. For me, starting in the seventh grade playing varsity all the way, the support was just unbelievable. It was just unbelievable. That could have been my thank you to them. I hope I signed everybody off very well.
Capistran: People always talk about your claim to fame, and honestly mine totally is Ivory Latta. I got to play with Ivory Latta. I don’t consider us equals, but she would. That’s how she is. We were teammates, we were friends, but you score 70 points in a game we are not equals.
Charles Latta: She wasn’t like that. It was like she’d just scored two points, that’s just the way she was.
Chenna Latta: It was always, “I’ve got to get better.”
Hemphill: Time flies, to think about that being 15 years ago. It seems just like it was yesterday to be in that moment, to feel everybody cheering and seeing the atmosphere. A lot of teams don’t get to experience that, and then to play with someone with that much talent…
Ivory Latta: It was like a year ago. I seen this guy in Atlanta at the mall, I can’t remember his name. ‘Man, we drove up from Atlanta because they kept talking about you. I was at your 70-point game!’ I’m like, ‘what the…!?’ And he was like, ‘we barely got in, but we were in there!’ People were coming from everywhere just to see the game. Just imagine if social media was here.
Stroud: I’ve coached all kinds of people. And she took what God gave her and made the best of it. And through the guidance of her parents, she was never disrespectful. She was driven, she knew what she wanted. People could say things and she’d hear things that were not so nice, but it never deterred her. And that was one of the things I loved about her. She knew who she was.
Jerry Kemp, Cristi Kemp’s husband, York Middle School teacher and coach: Every good girl that comes along is the next Ivory Latta. I hope there is another one… but so far there’s only been one.