I spent a few hours at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena Wednesday night watching three of the most dynamic high school district basketball games in recent memory, and here are just a few thoughts:
The next time I throw a party, I want to invite Tyler “The Skipper” Perry. The likeable, lovable William Chrisman High School student who happens to be the son of of my favorite guys, football coach Matt Perry, kept it lively in the Bears student section.
I loved his captain’s hat, his enthusiasm and his love of his team. I wish more students got out to support their respective high schools. The games Wednesday night were amazing, and every player I visited with commented on the electricity created by the the fans.
The Bears’ student cheering section was an incredible sixth man and played a role in the team’s 55-51 overtime win over Park Hill South.
My second favorite fan was Heather Jackson, the mother of junior point guard Isaiah Jackson, who worked as hard cheering for her team as Jake Kates did coaching on the sidelines.
She is “Mama Bear” to Kates’ team and also works at the front desk of the high school. She represents all the good things about being a parent of a player and a super fan.
They have passion – and that is what’s changing the culture at William Chrisman. Fans, coaches and players – like principal Mike Becker – told me, “It’s an exciting time to be a William Chrisman Bear.”
• Let’s talk drama.
Chrisman scored just three points – on an early Zachariah Rowe 3-point basket – in the fourth quarter, but managed to get the game into overtime.
Isaiah Jackson and Dawson Herl, two all-conference players who had starred in the game, fouled out, but Rowe, Tony Hilton and Alex Calhoun got the job done in overtime along with Kelvyn Mason, who saved the best for last.
He scored a game-high 21 points, including a nine-point first quarter that set the tone for the Bears.
• The Bears’ biggest fan – literally and figuratively – lives in Austin, Texas and plays football for the University of Texas.
I have been visiting with former Bears three-sport star Daniel Carson – also a basketball standout at Chrisman – throughout the postseason and The Examiner will feature his comments in a Saturday feature story. Carson is a Bear through and through and even if you aren’t a Chrisman fan, you are going to enjoy what he has to say about his alma mater.
• Over the past 36 years, I have seen some amazing high school basketball in Eastern Jackson County, but I don’t know if I have ever seen a pair of players who mean more to their team than Lee’s Summit North guards Javaunte Hawkins and Mikel Henderson.
Hawkins can seemingly score at will, and on the rare occasion he does not hit a 3-point bomb, his longtime best friend and backcourt mate takes care of business by slicing through the defense, hitting a layup and turning it into an old-fashioned three-point play.
“We’ve been best friends forever,” said Hawkins, who gets my vote for the DiRenna Award, given to the top player in the metro area. “We just love playing together and helping our team win. We’re brothers on and off the court.”
They each scored 27 points in a dramatic 69-67 win over Blue Springs South and they scored all 19 Broncos points in the fourth quarter (6 for Hawkins and 13 for Henderson, who was 9 for 9 from the free throw line, including the last four points of the game).
“I’ve never had a pair of players like that,” said Broncos coach Mike Hilbert, who takes his 25-3 team into Saturday’s quarterfinal game against the 20-8 Bears. “Javaunte gets all the attention, but Mikel is just as important to our team – and you will never find better guys. This team is so special because we have so many great young men on the team.”
After the win over South, Henderson spent several moments sharing the celebration with the students from North.
“They’ve been here for us all season and we want them to know how much we appreciate them,” Henderson said. “This was a big win over a great Blue Springs South team and they helped us get through it all.”
To me, nothing is more important than showing class – win or lose.
Hilbert is pure class. His demeanor on the sidelines is reflected by his team – cool, calm, collected and classy.
Kates has worked miracles at Chrisman, winning 20 games this year after leading the team to a 10-16 mark last year in a campaign that set the stage for future success.
His kids love him, the school loves him and his passion burns as bright as a nova. He’s a class act, with a bit of an attitude that I kind of like.
Steve Cassity’s Truman girls lost 53-46 to a bigger, quicker Lee’s Summit West team. But you could not tell who won or lost in our postgame conversation. Cassity has been the class of the class for the last decade at Truman and he is one of my favorite human beings.
But no one displayed more class Wednesday night than Blue Springs South coach Josh Smith.
Following the gut-wrenching two-point loss to the Broncos, he stood outside of the locker room for several minutes as I concluded my interview with Hilbert.
He didn’t have to wait. He could have joined his players on the team bus, but no, away from all the fans, the hoopla and the excitement, he displayed the type of class that I will never forget.
His answers were heartfelt and thoughtful. He explained the ins and outs of the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and managed a thin smile as he talked about his love of his team and a special bonding moment between two of his players in the locker room that will remain between us.
Thanks Coach Smith, and thanks to everyone for all the memories from an exciting Wednesday night.
– Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC