/In a basketball Grand Slam, the tiniest schools might be the biggest winners

In a basketball Grand Slam, the tiniest schools might be the biggest winners

It was sometimes called the Grand Slam. There was always potential for drama. You can think of the movie Hoosiers in which a small-town Hickory defeated South Bend Central. There were some instances of this in Mississippi: Potts Camp defeated Starkville for 1961’s boys Grand Slam championship or Duck Hill’s girls defeated Scott Central to win the 1979 Grand Slam. It wasn’t enough. Goliath often killed David, rather than the other way around. Most years, there wasn’t much drama. According to Mississippi High School Activities Association records, the Grand Slam was in existence from 1951 until 1983 when it was discontinued. The Grand Slam was restarted in 2006, but it was discontinued four years later. Last four boys winners were Provine, Callaway, Starkville, and Lanier. Hickorys were absent. This column does not suggest that we restart the Grand Slam. These kids are good at hoops. The majority of champions will have played over 30 games. This column will indicate that this year would have been the best year to try again. This was the year we might have had one or two real “Hickorys” in our lives. Thursday’s State Class 1A championship games were played for Mississippi’s smallest high schools. Gene Hackman, a Hoosier, would have been proud of coaching either the boys and the girls. Tiny Pine Grove, a girl from Tippah County won the girls title, beating McAdams (of Sallis, Attala County), 56-34. Okolona, a boy from south of Tupelo won the title, beating Ashland by 80-59. While I don’t think Pine Grove or Okolona will win an overall tournament, they could. I’m saying that the two small schools could compete with any other school. Okolona already beat Class 6A Starkville. Meridian will be playing Meridian in Saturday’s 6A championship. Let’s be clear: Okolona is not a Class 1A team. They are larger than the majority of Jackson Public Schools teams. Arteria Clifton’s team includes 6-foot, 6-inch Ladarrius Smith and 6-7 Cameron Smith. They are joined by a smaller group of lightning fast athletes who can run, jump, and shoot the basketball. They are the dominant team in 1A. They won their regional tournament with scores of 53-22, 102-69 and 102-82. They won North State by scores of 104-41, 87-55 and 87-55. In the State semifinals, they beat Wheeler by 88-54. All things considered Ashland lost by 21 to the Chieftains in the State semifinals. Okolona lost 30-2, to Starkville’s team, the Chieftains were also defeated by five, and Fayette Ware from Somerville (Tenn). Arteria Clifton, Okolona’s coach, was asked how his team would do against bigger schools. He replied that “we could win 6A if it were played in.” Pine Grove’s performance through the 1A girls competition was very similar. In region tournament play, the 33-3 Lady Panthers defeated Blue Mountain (65-35) and Jumpertown (66-33) respectively. They then beat Smithville (62-15) and Kennedy (80-24) in North State. In the State semifinals, they beat East Marion 62 to 35. The Lady Panthers are a strong defense and push all over the court, as you can see from the scores. They are as sound as they can be. All five starters can be interchanged, with all starting at 5-7 and 5-11. All are capable of handling the ball. All are capable of shooting it. All can defend like their lives depend upon it. Fans aren’t a problem for the Lady Panthers either. A total of 750 people made the three-and-a-half hour drive from Jackson to see the Lady Panthers. This is far more than the school’s enrollment. Nearly everyone wore bright red Tshirts, and almost all of them probably wore their vocal chords out. “We don’t have any stars,” Katie Bates, a former Lady Panther, stated. I tell my girls that they don’t need to do anything special, they just need to do the regular things exceptionally well. They do that. It is a blessing.” Bates was asked by an interviewer if it seemed her daughters were so fundamentally sound, it appeared they had been playing basketball their entire lives. She replied, “Well, they have. Pine Grove has very little else to do._x000D