Osceola, Rivercrest both state champs

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The decision which had been expected since the March 12 postponement of the Class 3A - 6A State Championship basketball games has finally been delivered.

The Arkansas Activities Association announced Monday all eight remaining games have been cancelled and the 16 semifinalists were both named state champions of their respective classifications.

The directive from the AAA read as follows: The Arkansas Activities Association announces the cancellation of all remaining state basketball championship games. Boys and girls teams who qualified for the finals in class 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A will all be named 2020 State Basketball champions. Plans are being developed to honor and formally recognize the students and teams who qualified in these championship games.

“It is with great disappointment that we announce the decision to cancel the remaining state basketball championship games,” said Lance Taylor, AAA Executive Director. “We certainly sympathize with these students, coaches, and fans who are being impacted, but the health and safety of the students we serve is our top priority.”

The AAA strongly supports Governor Hutchinson, Secretary of Education Johnny Key and Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith in their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are extremely fortunate in Arkansas to have these exemplary leaders providing guidance and care to all Arkansans. We must all come together to stop the spread.

The reaction from the athletes and coaches has been varied.

“It is exciting being a state champion, it’s not how we would’ve liked to have won the title, but it is great knowing that two teams from the same county are state champions,” said Greg Hooks, Jr., senior captain of the Osceola squad.

Kam Turner, junior guard for Rivercrest has been on both sides of this rivalry, playing his freshman and junior seasons at RHS with his sophomore campaign being at OHS. “It feels great, from winning my ninth great year with the big game I had, then going there my 10th grade year,” said Turner. “Then coming back and getting put out in the first round (football) in 2019. I’m just happy to be able to say I’ve played in a state final game every year of my high school career. It couldn’t have came easier than this.”

Shamar Jones, a senior captain at RHS, played a huge hand in the Colts drive to the finals. The all-state guard had this to say,”Being a state champion is all I’ve ever wanted,” said Jones. “But it doesn’t satisfy me. The reason being it was handed to us. But it’s a dream fulfilled none the less.”

The Colts and Seminoles were scheduled to meet for the fifth time this season in Hot Springs. Rivercrest held a 3-1 advantage this season, but both teams closed their years on hot streaks. The Colts won 11 of their last 12 games, while the Seminoles won 12 of 14 down the stretch. The Colts’ loss during that run was to Osceola. The Seminoles losses were to conference champions Manila and to the Colts.

Both had impressive runs in the state tournament at Charleston with the Colts dispatching Jessieville, Elkins and Dumas; while the Seminoles knocked off Episcopal Collegiate, Valley Springs and Mayflower to reach the March 13 title game.

Both teams and a large contingent of their fan bases had already arrived in Hot Springs when the games were postponed after Thursday’s 1A and 2A games.

Since then the teams and coaches have been waiting, hoping for the chance to play. Monday’s announcement brought closure to the waiting game.

“In the midst of all the turmoil, this is a positive for the kids and the school,” said Seminoles head coach Vernon Wilson, who won his first state title as a head coach. “I am proud for my seniors, Dan (Newson), Tray (Moore) and Greg (Hooks). I am happy for them to get that ring. This is big for the community and I think this is just going to bring Mississippi County closer together.” The title is Osceola’s first in any sport since winning the 2002 basketball title.

Wilson’s counterpart, Colts head coach Hunter Robinson, who also won his first state crown, is proud of his team, but wishes it had played out differently. “As coaches and players we definitely wanted to play the game, but at the same time, we know the health and the well-bring of everybody is the main priority,” Robinson said. Robinson’s biggest regret is he is unable to celebrate with his team. “I hate I’m not able to be with them, to hug them and tell them how much I love them in person. They accomplished so much more than people thought possible this season.” The title was the Colts first in basketball since winning the 2010-2011 Class 3A crown.”

Both coaches believe had the game been played it would have been one for the ages. “We were both playing so well,” said Wilson.”We would have been tough to beat,” Robinson said, “Even though we beat them three times, I think it could have been anybody’s to win. But I think we would have won.”

Instead the two schools, separated by less than 10 miles, will share the state title. Both schools will hang banners in their respective gyms, both will get championship rings and have pictures in their gyms which say state champions.