Miranda H. Lewis
Carter County Times
Being a part of the West Carter Lady Comets 2000 Girls’ Basketball Sweet 16 Championship is an accolade Megen “Penny” Gearhart fondly remembers.
“When we won state, I didn’t understand how big of a deal that was until I got older and realized it’s not easy to win at state, especially from a small town,” said Gearhart.
The 1999-2000 season for the Lady Comets was magical. After a devastating loss to Hart County on December 30, West Carter went on to win 27 straight games en route to the state title.
Although Gearhart would not describe West Carter as a “Cinderella team”, she said that the team’s loss to Lexington Catholic in the first round of the Sweet 16 during the 1998-1999 season set the precedent for what an incredibly determined Lady Comet squad desired.
Lexington Catholic went on to win the 1999 Girls’ State Championship and the loss ignited the Lady Comets championship aspirations, with all the fire and fury that entailed.
“When we realized what was possible for us, our goal was to keep winning games, to win at state ultimately,” recalled Gearhart.
In 2003, Gearhart put an exclamation point on her high school basketball career by being named Kentucky Miss Basketball.
Twenty years later, her incredible tenure as a Lady Comet continues to inspire others.
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association inducted its Class of 2023 into the Dawahares KHSSA Hall of Fame on Sunday, April 30 at the Central Bank Center Ballroom in Lexington.
Life has come full circle for Gearhart as she was included in this year’s induction class.
“It’s a huge honor and I’m very proud of all the accomplishments I’ve made through basketball,” said Gearhart.
She joined thirteen other former high school coaches, athletes, officials, administrators, and contributors to make up this year’s Hall of Fame class.
Those inducted have shown significant prowess in the game of basketball, whether that be on the court, or on the sidelines.
Aside from their involvement in high school athletics, factors such as skill, character, and how they’ve affected the lives of others are also taken into consideration.
“This is more of a big deal to me now that I’ve been out of the basketball world for a while,” said a humble Gearhart. “When I was playing, I didn’t think anything of it, I was trying to be the best I could be and win some basketball games,” she added.
Staying true to her team mentality, Gearhart acknowledged that all of this is possible because so many people have supported her during her years on the hardwood and beyond.
“Basketball is a team sport and I always focused on that, it never was about me, it was always about the team,” Gearhart said.
“My name may be in the Hall of Fame, but I really think that West Carter should be right there beside of it.”
Gearhart became a starter as an eighth grader for the Lady Comets and went on to amass 2,711 career points.
She claimed the 16th Region’s Most Valuable Player honors in her final three seasons as a Lady Comet, and was named to First Team All-State three times, as well as to the All-Tournament Team in every district and regional tournament in which she participated in.
After her run as a standout athlete at West Carter, she went on to have a successful career at Morehead State University.
After redshirting her sophomore season due to a back and hip injury, she returned for a final season her junior year during which she was named to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Tournament team after leading MSU to the semifinals for the first time since 2002.
Gearhart’s accomplishments remain extraordinary as fans, coaches, and teammates agree that her keen knowledge of shooting and ball-handling remain unmatched.
“I’ve always been taught that hard work pays off,” said Gearhart while reminiscing on the success she brought to West Carter.
Kentucky has always had a rich basketball history, throughout all sixteen regions exemplary players have emerged from every school in the state. Gearhart was a fierce competitor for West Carter High School and was an asset in evolving her school’s appearance in the Sweet 16 for five consecutive years.
She hopes her story encourages others who wear her beloved maroon and white colors.
“Even in a small town like Olive Hill, through sports you can do big things. We won the state tournament and I’m sure outside of this town nobody thought that was possible and we were able to do that. When you put in the time, the effort and do the right things, all while staying humble, good things will happen to you.”
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org