Kirby’s feat stops play at CVA

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2004

High School basketball teams have converged on Chelsea High School’s gymnasium to settle who’s the best in Shelby County, but some of the area’s most accomplished girls basketball players won’t be there.

That’s because the Shelby County Tournament is only open to schools participating in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

The AHSAA is easily the most competitive venue for prep ball in the county, but smaller schools in the Alabama Independent School Association offer exciting basketball as well and even showcase a couple of bona fide superstars.

Coosa Valley Academy’s Kirby Johnson eclipsed the 2000-career-points mark in Friday’s game against Chambers Academy, padding an already impressive list of accomplishments by the 5-foot-4 point guard.

Kirby knew she was getting close to the milestone before the game.

It couldn’t have slipped her mind, fans held up signs to keep track of how many more points she needed.

Somewhere around the third period the sign read one.

Stopping a basketball game in the middle of play is not a customary practice.

But when Johnson drained a layup off a fast-break dish by Kimberly Rutledge in the third period, officials halted play so that players, coaches and fans could honor a grand – make that a two-grand – accomplishment.

It’s been clear for some time that Kirby is no ordinary player.

She became a starter for the Lady Rebels in just the sixth grade. And by the time Kimbo Rutledge took over as head coach, Kirby had already established her place in the locker room as well, emerging as a sophomore team lead leader on a roster full of upperclassmen.

Rutledge is so confident with the team in her hands, he actually lets her run practice on days when he can’t make it (AISA coaches sometimes have full time jobs away from school).

And about two minutes before each game, Rutledge wraps up his pre-game speech and leaves his team with his senior star, who gives the final pep talk before the Lady Rebels hit the floor.

Sometimes she tells them who, on the other team, they need to look out for. Sometimes she’s calm and tells them to stay focused and stick to the fundamentals. Sometimes she gives a fiery, emotional speech to inspire them in a big game.

But Kirby Johnson always has her teammates ready to play.

There is another girls basketball player in Shelby County who will likely join Johnson in the 2000-points club.

Hannah Phillips, the sophomore sensation at Kingwood Christian School, is closing in on the mark as a sure-shooting point guard for the Lions.

Like Johnson, Phillips also began playing varsity basketball as a sixth grader.

Phillips entered the season with 1,442 career points and could even eclipse 2000 by her junior year.

Kingwood coach Jerry Stearns calls her one of the most talented players he’s ever coached.

Ashley Vansant is the sports editor at the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at