/Case closed Mississippi’s passion-packed state championships travel well, indeed

Case closed Mississippi’s passion-packed state championships travel well, indeed

Is there anything better than love? It’s hard not to love watching the passion and passion play out in every game. The raw emotions are revealed from the deepest parts of the hearts of girls and boys from the Gulf Coast to the Delta flatlands, and the hills of northeast Mississippi. There are so many fond memories of gifted stars like Wondrous Wendell Ladner and Doug Hutton. There are so many wonderful games. There was so much joy and so little pain. To see this carnival of emotions travel, I went to Oxford and Ole Miss’ radiant Pavilion with all this in mind. It’s been great. This was what the Mississippi High School Activities Association must have envisioned when they unanimously voted – 14 yea and 0 no – to move Jackson’s championship games from there for the first time in more than seven decades. Chad Harrison of Scott County School District, a former coach for two state championship teams, which included Victoria Vivians was one of 14 people who voted in favor of the move. This was not an easy decision. Harrison stated, “Man, the Big House was my favorite.” I loved coaching and watching the games there. “I’m a traditionalist, but you have to do the best for your kids, and this is what I did for them.” The thrills, the excitement, and the chills of the past are still there – just under brighter lights in a stately arena that was built exclusively for basketball – no tractor pulls or rodeos. Even basketball sounds better here. After her team beat Moss Point 37-30, Ripley Lady Tiger Amelya Habch said that there is just more energy in the area. It’s bright enough to feel like you’re playing under a spotlight,” said Steve Willey, Ripley girls coach. “This was such an amazing, great atmosphere. Everything about it was first-class.” You won’t find a coach who says they’re unhappy with this environment. I haven’t. The crowds were loud and large, with The Pavilion’s lower bowl almost full. We are almost halfway through the 12 championship matches as this article is being written. Two of the five games have ended in overtime and none were decided before the end of the fourth quarter. There have been moments of ecstasy, and then there was the dreadful feeling of overload. As I’ve said many times over the years, it is as simple as this: Take a page from your reporter’s notebook, and make a paper plane with it. You can sail it in any direction, and you have a great story. Let’s take, for example, Thursday night’s 4A boys championship match between Greenwood & Raymond. Greenwood was up against Raymond, who had won the previous three. You had Greenwood, who was the No. 4 seed in its region. It was the No. 4 seed in its region, which is a long shot if there ever was one. Final score: Greenwood 62 and Raymond 59. After one quarter, it was tied after three quarters, and again at regulation’s end. Greenwood started slowly this season, and it was a good thing. Greenwood’s football team reached the playoffs, and Coach Fredric Ford’s 10-man roster was a success. However, they were slow to get started in basketball. Ford stated that it took them a while to work out the kinks. But they did – most of all, Deandre Smith, a just-turned-16-year-old 10th-grader, did. Smith, a highly-respected football quarterback, lifted his teammates up on his shoulders and scored 30 of 62 Bulldogs’ points in overtime. The fun part of these basketball passion plays lies in identifying the next big stars of Mississippi. Smith, a 6-foot-2 inch, solidly built guard, was quickly picked. He just knew his team would win. Smith stated, “Losing football broke my heart.” Smith said, “I was not going to lose this one.” Smith made 11 of 19 field goals and 6 of 9 free shots. He also succeeded in both of his three-point attempts. He was also a leader in his team’s rebounding, assists, and one big blocked shot in overtime. Smith will have to decide one day whether he wants to play basketball or football. He said, “I have two years to complete that.” “Right now I’m having fun.” Then there was the Class 1A boys champion game, which is almost always my favorite. On Thursday, Ingomar and Baldwyn, two of the traditional powerhouses in Mississippi Hill Country, were at it. Norris Ashley, Ingomar’s legendary coach and winner of nine state championships, was there watching his son Jonathan try to win his first. Ingomar junior Zach Shugars hit a 15-foot buzzer-beater for the win, 47-45. There were approximately 4,500 people standing and shouting at the end. Jonathan Ashley is an expert on the history of this tournament. When his father won the first state title, he was still in diapers in the Big House. He was fourth grade when he saw Chris Jackson play James “Hollywood”, Robinson in one the most memorable games in Mississippi high school basketball. Ashley stated that he has seen larger crowds than the one on Thursday afternoon, but he doesn’t think he’s ever heard one louder. It seemed like there were 10,000 people there on the night Chris and Hollywood went at it at The Big House. But there’s something about this place that is different. It is a basketball arena. You are right in the middle of the crowd. There isn’t a bad spot. The coliseum doesn’t feel open-airy, like the coliseum. It feels more like you are looking into space. It’s all first-class, from the locker rooms to the floor and the sound system, to the lighting and sound. This is coming from someone who grew-up going to The Big House.” The goal is to move next year’s state tourney to The Hump at Mississippi State. Officials from Mississippi State were present and already making preparations to host next year’s tournament. You know something about the rivalry between State and Ole Miss, so you know State will do everything to make next year’s event even more memorable. Who are the big winners? The children. It’s the right thing to do.