By Brandon Speck
Baldwyn assistant coach Raymond Craven was talking with former Bearcat Reggie Patterson as players gathered in the gym Thursday morning ahead of a pair of pep rallies, load a charter bus and then head south to Jackson for today’s Class 2A state semifinal against Heidelberg.
“The tooth fairy will come and get you,” Craven said.
It makes sense if you play Candy Crush.
That’s the mood of a team that’s accustomed to going where Baldwyn is going.
The Bearcats are aiming for a fourth state final appearance in five seasons and defending last season’s title – the school’s first since now-coach Jason McKay helped the team to back-to-backs in 1986-87 as a player.
They let me ride along, behind the scenes. What you won’t see behind the scenes, much less out front, are nerves – even in a team that starts a freshman, a pair of sophomores and two juniors.
They’re familiar with this trip, familiar with Mississippi Coliseum’s open-air goals and familiar with the TV game they’ll play if they win today.
Junior Romaro Crump is starting here for the third time. Freshman Felix Hayes walked around during the rowdy high school pep rally like he’d been there before.
Fans are excited
A long line of youngsters – kindergarten through fourth grade – had red-and-blue faces and signs, wanting autographs of guys they equate to LeBron.
Baldwyn’s fans are anything but calm. They’re a hungry bunch. McKay preaches – and believes – Baldwyn’s continued success is as much a product of that community as it is team.
Community showed up big on Thursday morning, scattered along downtown, through residential neighborhoods and waiting on corners for the bus.
The mood got serious when McKay methodically made sure everyone knew where to stand in the intro line and said any McDonald’s paper left on the floor after a burger stop would result in laps on game day. Still, it was overwhelmingly loose.
Junior Chet Barber walked in the gym about 10 seconds after a team picture was taken – it was retaken. Sleepy sophomore Duke Upshaw had to be prodded awake for the blessing at the burger stop, then fell asleep again after a stomach full at Mugshots – as did Armontie Price, both at the table.
McKay stopped for a traditional team picture at the Pearl River, recalling the landmark near Jackson when he made this trip here as a child. Craven’s 7-year-old son Trey blamed Patterson for Baldwyn not making it to Jackson in 2011. He recalled that memory as a 4-year-old.
It was an event, a parade with spunk. The Bearcat mascot was mobbed by 7- and 8-year-olds, needing adult help to break away.
“Tell me those kids don’t want to go to the state tournament,” McKay leaned over to say.
Like Trey Craven, they do. And Baldwyn is. Again. Calmly. Like they’ve been here before.