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Bears, Lady Cats in state tourney action

Excitement is at a fevered pitch this week for high school basketball teams. It’s an early symptom of March Madness, that collegiate epidemic that sweeps the nation and keeps the roundball sport in the headlines for the next month.

In Lincoln County, the Bogue Chitto girls and West Lincoln boys showcase their basketball talents in the MHSAA State Tournament at the Big House, aka Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum. The facility is 50 years old but it serves as a Mecca for high school basketball players and their coaches.

Friday will be a big day for both local teams. Bogue Chitto’s Lady Cats tackle the H.W. Byers Lady Lions of Holly Springs at 9 a.m. in the first game of the 2-week tournament. West Lincoln’s Bears meet the Biggersville Lions that afternoon at 2:30. No doubt, there will plenty of Blue & Gold folks pulling for the Lady Cats. The Green & White crowd will converge on the Big House for the afternoon session.

Both the Bears and Lady Cats have enjoyed exceptional campaigns. Coach Lane Young’s Bears won the South State 1A Tournament and Coach Christi Terrell’s Lady Cats were runners-up in the girls bracket. This is the third straight year for Terrell to take her team to the state tourney. Ironically, they are meeting Byers for a third consecutive year.

Hopefully, the third time will be a charm for the Lady Cats.

West Lincoln’s boys also won South State last year. They catch North State runner-up Biggersville in the semifinals. North State and defending state champion Coldwater tests South runner-up Hinds AHS at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

For sure, the Bears are on a mission. They lost to Coldwater last year in the semifinals. Their main goal has been a return to the Big House.

This is expected to be the last time for the Class 1A and 2A tournaments to be held in Jackson. The Mississippi High School Activities Association has reached an agreement with the City of Tupelo to play next year’s tournament in that northeast Mississippi city.

Personally, I believe the City of Jackson has fumbled the basketball, big time. Mayor Harvey Johnson and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce should make a wholesale effort to keep all of the state tournaments in the Capital City. Heck, it’s a matter of economics and civic pride.

Certainly, the ailing Jackson economy and sagging tax base would benefit from more out-of-town visitors. They spend the night at motels, shop, eat and buy gasoline.

For sure, basketball teams from north Mississippi will benefit from the Tupelo location. Basketball fans living south of Jackson can anticipate a 4-hour drive to Tupelo. What’ s more, they probably will have to spend the night.

Jackson also is recognized as the media capital of Mississippi. Four Jackson television stations lavish coverage on the state tournament. About all they’ll get from Tupelo next year will be a feed and few minutes of coverage.

For the unknowing reader, Brookhaven High School’s Sinclair Gymnasium, completed in the mid 1960s, once hosted the Class 1A or B-BB state basketball tournaments in the early 1970s. Loyd Star, New Hebron and Bogue Chitto often were the local favorites.

The BHS gym held close to 2,000 folks back than and it was literally packed, with standing-room-only crowds. The late W.L. Roach, former BHS principal, served on the MHSAA executive committee and exerted a lot of influence in bringing those tournaments to Brookhaven. Out-of-town people had to travel to McComb to find a vacant motel room.

Showing my age, we vividly remember some of those state tournaments at BHS. One year, the Morton Panthers won the B-BB crown. They had a guard named David Ferris, who was an exceptional player.

Morton’s fans would hoist a large sign from the stands, “Morton Is A Chicken Town But the Panthers Are Not Chicken.”

Durant won the title one year, when Terry Large sparkled for the Tigers. Large was about 6-foot-3, built like a linebacker and played point guard. He later starred for Alcorn State University.

The Presley twins, Don and Dan, were shooting guards on some of the Loyd Star powerhouses coached by Wayne Sasser. Loyd Star’s archenemy was New Hebron. The Golden Bears were led by guard Mike Jones, who later starred for Co-Lin and Mississippi College. Jones was a powerful 6-footer who could run the floor and shoot the lights out. He was a standout football player, too.

Jones was mature for his age and local fans accused him of being too old to play high school ball. He was shaving in high school and often had a 5 o’clock shadow. Jones played with a high-level of passion. Every pore on his body issued several ounces of sweat during a game. Whenever he went to the free throw line, the referees would ask for a towel to mop up his sweat.

Jones went on to become a successful college coach, first working as an assistant coach and recruiter with M.K. Turk at Southern Miss, and later as a head coach at Co-Lin and MC. He now serves as MC’s athletic director.

Brookhaven Academy’s boys made another strong showing under head coach Dale Watts this season but the Cougars fell short of their state championship goal. Still, they managed to whip Leake Academy in the Class AA state tournament consolation game. That win qualified them for the MAIS Overall Tournament at Mississippi College.

Watts coached his team to a lopsided win over West Memphis Christian in Tuesday’s opening round. Unfortunately, they drew Class AAA state champion Jackson Prep in Wednesday’s second round. It’s usually a physical mismatch when AAA plays AA. It often appears to be an exercise in futility.

But, that’s why they play the game. Upsets happen every day.

Contact sports editor Tom Goetz by Email: tom.goetz@dailyleder.com