By Brandon Speck
Thursday’s news that the Mississippi High School Activities Association is expanding its state basketball tournament wasn’t a big surprise.
The surprise to North Mississippi was that Tupelo is seemingly completely out of the running to possibly host the second site of the new format.
That produced a spirited conversation via Twitter about where that second site should be, which naturally led to thoughts of moving the finals completely out of the outdated Mississippi Coliseum, where they have been since the late 1960s.
Last March, Baldwyn won its first championship since two in 1986-87. Before current coach Jason McKay played on those teams, he said, the Bearcats won titles at Delta State and Forest and played one of his team’s games at Hinds CC.
“It has evolved over time, being away from Jackson, to Jackson,” McKay said. “I think ultimately what you have to look at, tradition has been broken a lot, but the main tradition hasn’t been broken. We’re proud to be involved.”
Traditionalists want to keep it there. The dilapidated Coliseum is considered the Mecca of Mississippi high school basketball – the “Big House,” as state championship public address announcer Glen Waddle likes to say before state championship games.
But the facility has seen better days, much like Veterans Memorial Stadium – which the state’s football championships are likely to leave before next season.
Tupelo made its case when it hosted the revived Grand Slam in 2007 and ’08 at BancorpSouth Arena. The event then was played in Jackson for two more seasons before being abandoned.
State championship basketball isn’t leaving Jackson next year, but if it did, whether due to a facility upgrade or to give a different city a fair try, McKay says that fine.
“I’ve been going to the state tournament probably over half my life, as a fan or player or coach,” he said. “When you see banners on walls in every gym who’s won a state championship, I’ve yet to read one that says where it’s played. We trust that no matter where it is, the MHSAA is going to make it an event to remember for a lifetime. They always have.”