Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Hawks win with class

It was a packed house Friday night at Tupelo High School.

I was one of the estimated 2,300 in attendance, there to watch two Top 10 high school basketball teams tangle.

On this special night, I enjoyed being a fan in the gymnasium, standing and cheering right along with all the other Holly Springs supporters.

Staff members Claude Vinson and Lawrence White handled the coverage from court side. That way I was able to clap and shout.

The game had been built up all week, particularly by the Tupelo media.

They talked about Holly High’s top ranking in the state, among all classifications.

They talked about Holly High’s undefeated record (now 21-0 after beating 5A schools Tupelo and Olive Branch over the weekend).

They talked about Holly High’s two straight Class 3A state championships.

They talked about Holly High’s win streak (now at 42 after the weekend victories).

They talked about Holly High’s top players, seniors Clevin Hannah and Brandon Ayers, both members of the state’s Dandy Dozen, and the supporting cast of talented Hawks.

And they went on and on, trying to fire up the seventh-ranked Golden Wave, in hopes of the upset.

They even talked about the Holly Springs mystique.

Tupelo coach David Ball said there’s no mystique.

“They have a system, and the kids have bought into it,” he said.

One web site had predictions - those being split between the 3A Hawks and the 5A Golden Wave.

One said Tupelo would win because of its size; another said Holly High’s quickness was too much for the Wave.

We arrived just before 6 p.m. Fans were lined up, waiting to get a ticket, and not just Holly Springs and Tupelo supporters, but basketball fans from all over North Mississippi.

They came from neighboring towns to see this one. It was one of the biggest games in these parts, ever.

And there were plenty of college coaches in the crowd, too, looking at the attractive pool of talent from both sides.

The Tupelo student body was decked out, pom-poms waving and loud. Some boys were shirtless, painted in school colors.

All the hype was well worth it; however, Holly High made a statement early, watched its lead tighten and then took control again in the second half.

The Hawks had too many weapons.

They won by 25. They were impressive.

I think those basketball fans who hadn’t seen the Hawks were somewhat in awe. They discovered coach Naylond Hayes’ team is once again for real.

Some Tupelo supporters left early. Holly Springs fans waved bye – all in good, clean fun.

Yes, the Hawks were impressive, but not just their athleticism and basketball skills. They displayed class, sportsmanship and discipline - before, during and after the game.

They handled themselves well in post-game interviews. They didn’t boast or brag, but they are confident. They talked about the importance of teamwork and their goal of winning a third straight “gold ball.”

Coach Hayes’ teams continue to impress with me with their dazzling play on the basketball court. Holly High has become a factory for basketball talent.

But even more so, his teams exemplify the quality characteristics of their coach.

That, even more so, makes them winners.

And for that reason, I left Tupelo High School last Friday night very proud to call Holly Springs home.

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