Let the madness begin: tournament time is here again
Feb. 15, 2001
It's finally here the night of high school basketball I've been waiting for since the season began last November.
Tonight, basketball gurus will fill tiny gyms across Mississippi with crazed fans, cheerleaders, and mommas and daddies.
In every game, they'll see one team fulfill its goal, to make it out of its division tournament and into the playoffs.
And in every game, they'll see months and years of preparation go down the drain as the other team' s season comes to an end.
It's February Madness.
Those who are involved with high school basketball know what I'm talking about. Those who don't can imagine March Madness without live television and with much more emotion.
A team's season can continue or come to end with one big shot … one defensive stand … one turnover.
The best part? Fans won't have to go far to see the stories unfold.
Southeast Lauderdale and Clarkdale are the sites for two of these real-life dramas.
At Clarkdale, the host Bulldogs will try to pull off another upset, and in the process, give retiring coach Ronny Roberts one more week to draw up plays.
The Newton Tigers will try to avoid a letdown. Bay Springs will try to avoid being a victim of a Cinderella story. The girls' teams from the same two schools will put it all on the line in search of a playoff berth.
At Southeast, I'll be in attendance as early as possible … to make sure scoresheets are prepared … to make sure I don't get trampled by what is sure to be an overflow crowd … and to be one of the first in line for food in the hospitality room.
More than anything, I'll be there for the basketball. To watch the five or six schools that I've followed the closest for the past few seasons. To watch history being made.
I'll be the first to admit there are a couple of teams gone from the 5-3A tourney at Southeast that I had pegged to be there.
I was one of many who felt West Lauderdale's girls were a state title contender. On the other hand, someone in this rugged race had to be left out.
After all, there are five girls' teams in this one tournament capable of going all the way. The very same fifth-seeded Velma Jackson team that sent West packing Tuesday is much like the Lady Falcons who won the division last year and made it to The Big House when they were also just the No. 5 seed in their division.
Velma gets it cranked up today at 4 p.m. against the tourney's big dog, Choctaw Central, the only team boys or girls in this district which didn't lose a division game. It goes without saying that Willis Tullos' 10th-ranked Choctaw team is favored, but Velma played the Lady Warriors within three points last week and I haven't seen a guard any quicker than the Lady Falcons' Katunia Levy all season.
Newton County's boys take on top-seeded Velma Jackson at 5:30, and the Cougars would like nothing more than to be fitted for the glass slipper. Johnny Slaughter's bunch beat Velma for the 5-3A title last year, and the Cougars are probably still riding high after an emotional win Tuesday.
And how good are the two nightcaps?
The late boys' contest pits the red-hot Knights of West Lauderdale against Kemper County. The Wildcats won their first two battles with West, but the Knights returned the favor with a 20-point whipping last week that shook up the tourney seedings.
Is there anyone in the state hotter than West's boys right now? One division coach called the Knights' recent play "elite", and several have West's starting sophomore trio pegged for greatness.
At 7 p.m., Southeast's Lady Tigers go up against Newton County. Whose career will come to a premature end? That of Tamekia Foley? Or will it be the state's all-time leading scorer?
That's right. Monique Horner could very well play on her home floor in the Southeast red and blue for the final time tonight.
Will Mo finally get a chance to return to Jackson, where she hasn't been since the eighth grade? Or can Newton County find the form that earned the Lady Cougars a pair of wins over Southeast earlier this season?
I don't know. But I wouldn't miss it for the world. In fact, I don't imagine many folks will. The gym at Southeast was nearly full Tuesday, when there were eight other tournaments going on in the area, as well as a big card of boxing at the Frank Cochran Center.
But if I can convince you to come tonight … get there early.
The seasons of some area teams have already ended. Meridian High's teams don't play tonight, and the biggest competition Southeast and Clarkdale face tonight is the next episode of Survivor.
If you want real must-see action … real passion … real hopes and dreams … head to one of these gyms.
It's the best four bucks you can spend tonight.
Rocky Higginbotham is the sports editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.