ENID, Okla. —
Friday was the best day of the year for small school high school basketball fans.
Semifinal games in the Class A and B state tournaments tipped off anywhere from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., as all 16 teams that reached the semifinals got the thrill of playing in the State Fair Arena (a.k.a. The Big House).
Why not expand it to having the whole tournament at the State Fair Arena, where all small school players dreamed of playing?
This can be done by expanding the tournament from three to four days.
Class A could play its eight first-round games (four girls and four boys) on one day and Class B could play its games the next or vice versa.
Playing by class is preferred because a number of schools have qualified both their boys and girls team. This year three schools did that — Cheyenne-Reydon, Red Oak and Fort Cobb-Broxton.
Velma-Alma, Okarche and Pond Creek-Hunter came within one game of having both teams in.
This way those fans could stay in one location without having to drive from Carl Albert High School to the State Fair Arena as the Class B teams did.
This is nothing against the three other sites — Carl Albert, Oklahoma City University and Southern Nazarene — all fine facilities.
But no kid says “We’re going to Carl Albert or we’re going to OCU, or we’re going to Southern Nazarene,’’ when they qualify for the state tournament.
“They shout we’re going to the Big House,’’ and they’re not talking about the state pen in McAlester.
To the Class A and B teams, playing in the State Fair Arena keeps a tradition that has gone through three generations.
The Arena won’t be mistaken for Madison Square Garden or even Gallagher-Iba Arena or Lloyd Noble Center.
But to the small-school player, it’s the ultimate prize.
Pond Creek-Hunter’s Jade Jones spoke of going to state tournaments with her father, Panthers boys coach Darin Jones, and how she dreamed of playing there.
Jones accomplished the dream of playing in state, but since the Lady Panthers lost their first-round game at OCU, they are one of 12 teams that won’t get the experience of playing at the Arena.
OSSAA does a good job of rotating the classes around the Arena for the first round, but it’s still possible someone could reach the state tournament three times and not play in the Arena.
Think of how that would be for the basketball junkie.
It would be much like the old NAIA Tournaments in Kansas City where basketball was played around the clock. Many people plan their vacations around the state tournaments even if their schools don’t make it.
Let the fan buy a one-session or all-session ticket. Don’t empty the building after the afternoon games. Make it a constant flow of games.
It might be worth the price of admission just to soak in the atmosphere. No one is more supportive of their teams than the small towns of Oklahoma.
Just people-watching would be good. Just wish those fans would have gotten a chance to see Burlington’s Tiffany Rieger play. She concluded her career with the Lady Elks with 2,535 points, which ranks her No. 6 all-time in Oklahoma Girls 5-on-5 annuals.
Burlington’s boys might have lost in the first round to Arnett, but they are state champs nevertheless. Today, they will receive their fourth straight state academic championship.What a tribute to Elk seniors Lane Newlin, Brandon Gosselin and Tyler Flackman, who were four for four in academic state championships. That’s a record that never will be broken.
The character and leadership that trio showed is one reason the Elks always overachieved.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.