JOHN WILBERT: Lack of interest spelled the end to the Grand Slam

By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – It had become clear last March: The revived MHSAA Grand Slam was about to go away.
With sparse attendance, not much fanfare and a lack of excitement from players and coaches, the 2010 Grand Slam signaled an end was near for the basketball tournament – played the week after the state tournament’s conclusion – that crowns one overall boys state champion and one overall girls champion regardless of classification.
“No, we’re not,” MHSAA Executive Director Dr. Ennis Proctor said on the phone last week about playing the Grand Slam this season. “We just got to where we didn’t get the support we should have. The schools felt like the state championships were the main thing.
“As far as everybody was concerned, we didn’t get the necessary support from fans and teams.”
The Grand Slam Basketball Championships – in some form or fashion – dates back to the 1951 season, when the first overall state championship games were held.
After the 1982 season, the Grand Slam took a 25-year hiatus. The event finally returned in 2007 when Tupelo got to host it.
“Four to five years ago we sent out a survey to see if people would be interested in playing it again,” Proctor said. “Up to 60-some percent of the coaches and administrators wanted to bring it back.”
Tupelo hosted the revived Grand Slam for two years before the event moved to Jackson – where it was played the last two seasons – in hopes of drawing more fans. But even in a more geographically-centered location in the state, the Grand Slam only drew a couple thousand more fans – 1,000-1,500 more in each of those seasons – than it did in Tupelo, according to Proctor.
“The schools were not as interested as we thought they would be,” Proctor said. “The majority of schools wanted to try it again.
“Tupelo did an outstanding job. Excellent teams made it up there, but we weren’t really fortunate enough to have an Ingomar, Myrtle or New Albany … teams in that area who draw well.”
Last spring, the MHSAA board made the decision to discontinue the Grand Slam event, and Proctor does see a possibility for the event to return.
“I would say it’s a possibility,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what interest there is.”
But with none of the smaller schools advancing to the Grand Slam championship game since the event’s revival, the Hoosiers’-type excitement just isn’t there, as Proctor pointed out on the phone last week.
Take for example Ingomar, last season’s Class 1A state champion. In what was shaping up to be Norris Ashley’s last game as coach of the Falcons, Class 2A state champion West Bolivar thumped the state’s winningest coach’s boys team, 66-39, in Round 1 of the 2010 Grand Slam.
West Bolivar then proceeded to play a less-than-interested Starkville team in the semifinals. The Class 6A Yellowjackets woke up in the end to win 57-56 on a questionable block by Rashad Perkins.
Yes, Perkins, the 2010 Daily Journal Player of the Year, did provide several entertaining moments during the game, including an alley-oop to himself off the glass, but the bottom line was that Perkins and Co. seemed to treat that game as more of an exhibition than a tournament contest.
But who could really blame them? After all, spring break was on the horizon and the weather had finally warmed up after months of busting their tails indoors to become state champions of the classification that is home to schools with the largest enrollment figures in Mississippi.
What satisfaction does a large school get from beating a small school other than avoiding an upset? Clearly the 6A state title was more satisfying to the Yellowjackets players and coaches than the Grand Slam one.
“The state championships have gotten to be so big now with all the classes,” Proctor said of the state tournament whose championship games are televised statewide by Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
And the Grand Slam – whose games had not been televised – will soon become a distant memory.

Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or john.wilbert@journalinc.com.