By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
The telephone calls start coming in to Byron Sparks’ office during the fall, even before basketball season begins.
“What’s the date for the state championship game? I’m trying to plan my vacation,” they’ll say to New Site’s girls coach.
It drives him nuts … in a good way.
“I like to take them one game at a time,” Sparks said. “I tell people, ‘We’ve got to get there first!’
“They tell me, ‘Oh, we’re going to get there.’’’
New Site’s girls basketball has given its legion of fans a reason to think positive. This year’s trip to the Big House marks the fifth consecutive season the Lady Royals have ventured from Prentiss County to Jackson.
New Site won its first girls state championship last season.
“We’ve spoiled everybody around here,” Sparks said. “That’s a good thing. We’ve had success and it has raised expectations.
“We’re fine with that as a team. We expect to be there, too.”
Folks inside the Mississippi Coliseum tonight will definitely see plenty of red when the Lady Royals rumble against Amite County in the 2A state tournament semifinal.
New Site fans filled the stands more than an hour before last Saturday’s 2A North title game against Potts Camp.
“Our community supports us,” Sparks said. “The kids know the fans are going to be there. Our fans feel a part of it and that’s the way we want it.”
The passion for girls basketball isn’t confined to Prentiss County. Last week’s 4A championship game at Pontotoc between the host Lady Warriors and North Pontotoc drew a packed house.
Lady Vikings coach Shane Montgomery, whose team lost 59-49 to Pontotoc, enjoyed the interest the matchup generated. Pontotoc is the defending state champion while North Pontotoc came in a 25-game winner.
“It brought back a lot of good memories for me, back before Hurricane, Thaxton and Ecru combined,” said Montgomery, a 30-year coaching veteran who played high school ball for consolidated North Pontotoc. “It’s a rich tradition and it feels good to see it coming back.
“To see an overflow crowd and the atmosphere was unbelievable.”