By: Larry W. Walthall
Each year the Arkansas High School Coaches Association and the Arkansas Activities Association bring together selected High School Seniors in Baseball, Softball, Girls and Boys Soccer, Volleyball, Girls and Boys Basketball and Football. Coaches from each of these sports are also selected to help lead the teams to an overall playoff. Some people would say this is where the rubber meets the road. All the sports are hosted at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) campus in Conway, Arkansas for a week long of camp and activities. Teams are divided into an East vs. West competition. These selections are the Best of the Best in their particular sport. All week long from June 20th thru June 23rd teams will take to the court or field to play in their last High School athletic sport competition. Many have already been selected from colleges across the country to play at the next level. This is yet another time for them to shine and create lasting memories.
Charleston High School was very honored to have several students and a coach selected to be part of this 2017 All Star Week of events. All of Charleston’s participants will be on the West Team. From basketball we had Brandon Fenner, Phillip Hampton and coach B J Ross. Coach Ross was selected to be the Head Coach of the West Basketball Team. From football Charleston’s Garret Loughridge and Ryan Keener. Charleston past Coach Doug Loughridge of Alma was selected to be defensive co-coordinator for the footballs West Team. There were several other players on both the basketball and football teams from the surrounding areas of Mulberry, Ozark, Alma, Paris, Van Buren and Booneville.
The time had come and the stage was set at the UCA Farris Center Gym. The players name and school were introduced individually prior to each game. The West basketball team had not won in 7 years, so that put added pressure on Coaches and team members. Charleston would not have any players starting the game but all players will have the opportunity to play. The word about Brandon Fenner being the states all time 3-point leaders left some surprise he was not starting. Coach Ross knew exactly what he was doing. Every player has this certain feeling inside with excitement and that would change somewhat as the game begins. Coach Ross has been in this situation 4 times before. To no surprise the game started in a very fast pace. Players knew with everyone getting to play they could go all out as fresh players would come in throughout the game. The East got the ball first but could not put it in the hoop. The West did not waste any time chalking up points. They were also controlling the offense and defensive boards. The extra teamwork showed as the West had more assists than did the East. The tempo of the West stayed even up and down the court where the East seemed confused at first. The West just stayed ahead of the game in points and both had few 1st qtr turnovers. When the 1st qtr ended it was West 19 and East 14. This was still any ones game.
The 2nd qtr started with a complete change of teams from both sides. Coaches wanted to make sure everyone gets to play. Charleston players Fenner and Hampton were still not going in. But after being around Coach Ross all basketball season, I knew he had something in his mind about his Charleston hometown boys. He knew when he could call on them to get the job done. This was a tough game going on. Referees let a lot of pushing and shoving go on under the basket and inside the paint. As you set back you could see some coaching staging about what players were in each qtr. The East started putting the ball through the hoop a little more. Each player was getting their opportunity to score. The West was falling short as only two players were making shots. By the end of the 2nd qtr the East was able to put a 25 to 14 run on the West to go ahead 39 to 33.
As the 3rd qtr players were coming out to start I noticed Charleston’s Brandon Fenner and Phillip Hampton make it to center court. Was this what Coach Ross had up his sleeve? Behind by 6 points might not seem like much but in this caliber of game these players were putting on some outstanding moves. Well it didn’t take long for Fenner to get the ball and shrink the lead; he hit a 3-pointer from the corner. That’s what people were looking at, Fenner the state all time 3-point leader put it through the net. Coach Ross knew exactly what he was doing. Then Charleston’s Phillip Hampton came through with a much-needed defensive rebound at the right time. Down court Fenner gets the ball again and another 3-pointer. Even the fans got excited about watching this young player come off the bench with 6 points behind bringing the West back to a tie game. At least the West team fans went wild. Hot Springs Exavion Christon chalked up some most important points helping the West to increase their lead. Charleston’s Phillip Hampton makes a nice offensive rebound and goes back up for 2. The pace stayed fast but the smooth tempo of the West charged them into a 20 to 12 run putting them up by 2 points at the end of the 3rd qtr. 53 to 51.
By the time 4th qtr was starting every player for the West had some playing time in the game. Coach Ross had balanced his players as to keep them fresh and put the heat on the East. The East had 2 players who stayed in a little longer so Coach Ross really put the defensive heat on them which produced some costly turnovers for the East. Charleston’s Phillip Hampton really came through with a remarkable blocked shot that turned into another 2 pointer for the West. Not to disappoint anyone Fenner comes down court and nailed another 3-pointer to spread the West lead. Fans can’t believe it, as the East comes down court Charleston’s Phillip Hampton steals the ball and passes it down court for the West to get an easy 2. The West goes on another run 20 to 15 to stay on top 73 to 66 at the end of 4 qtrs.
Normally most basketball games would be done after 4 qtrs but this ALL STAR game would add extra time and another qtr. All coaches wanted to make sure every player had plenty of time to play. Of course all the fans loved it, as this was an exciting game. In this overtime/5th qtr coaches would move players in and out. The pace of play never slowed down. The game finally came to a close with the West winning for the first time in 7 years. As I watched that final qtr I could only think of the excitement that Brandon Fenner and Phillip Hampton had given to the hometown fans of Charleston. This would be there last game as a high school basketball player. Fenner also had been on the track and field team, while Hampton played football. These were 2 remarkable young men who gave it there all while playing sports at Charleston High School. As for Coach Ross, he just seems to have what it takes to bring a team together year after year and do things they never dreamed possible. He is staying at Charleston and will continue to put many young men into college ball. Charleston fans already are looking forward to next year. Coach Ross says some of his players are in summer ball camps or travel teams. Now you can see why Coach Ross was chosen to go and be the Head Coach at the ARKANSAS ALL STAR GAME.
So what did Coach Ross have to say about the game? “It was an honor to be selected to be Head Coach at this game. This game was an extra bonus. I had solid players from all over the state; they shared the ball and came from good programs. It was a very fast paced game and that’s my kind of basketball. Glad I could help break that 7 year stretch and win this one for the West.” As for your 2 players here give me your thoughts. “ These 2 young men played their hearts out for me at Charleston these past few years. I will never forget the excitement they gave me all year long. They deserved to come here. At home in Charleston we have a good team, excellent players, school support and a community that comes out week after week to support us. I could not ask for anymore and I have the support of my family.” B J Ross has a son, Brayden who is a top-notch basketball player. Brayden came down with his dad to be the team manager during the ALL STAR game. I could see that look in his eye about being here on center stage. Next year we will see him along with a well-coached Charleston basketball team. GO TIGERS
Jemarreya Jones , Nevada, AR - Camper of the week
Czar Perry, El Dorado, AR – Player of the game
Exavion Christon, Hot Springs, AR- MVP
Tevin Brewer, Ft. Smith, AR- Player of the game
(Many people wondered why Ft. Smith was on the East Team. It is the way the Association has them lined up in the conference and whom they play through out the year).
And as the well-known entertainer Bob Hope use to say, ”Thanks for the memories”. Brandon and Phillip, you did us proud.
The next night Charleston fans were able to return to the campus of University of Central Arkansas to Estes Stadium where the UCA Bears play their home games. The field is marked in school colors, which are purple and gray. The field was a little different for me as I am use to the normal artificial turf of Charleston, which is green with white stripes. Maybe a little bit old fashioned for me but I remember when it used to be all grass.
Before the introductions of all the players and coaches everyone was watching the sky or on their phone checking the weather. Little sprinkles but not enough to stop or hold up a football game. There were 2 players representing Charleston High School, Garrett Loughridge, who had played middle linebacker and Ryan Keener an offensive tackle for our hometown Tigers. Also on the West Team were players from Booneville, Ozark, Paris and Alma along with the Alma’s Head Coach Doug Loughridge. Most of us remember Doug as he was also Charleston’s Head Coach that took Charleston to the 3A State Championship in 2008. Doug was going to be the defensive coordinator for the ALL STAR West Team.
As everyone lined up on the field for the starting kickoff, some umbrella’s popped up and ponchos put on as a light rain began to fall. The Red jersey West Team would be kicking off to the Blue jersey East Team. The football no sooner landed in the arms of the Blue East and you could see a wedge of Blue jersey’s lining up the right side of the field. Yes the end result was an East touchdown on the first kickoff of the game. But the West would be receiving the ball next. Well, nothing happened there and the East received a punt around mid-field. The East scores again and at that point a bolt of lightning could be seen in the distance. The lighting was within the range that everyone was asked to leave the field with no anticipation of when or if the game would continue. After a 35-minute delay everyone was brought back out and players did a few warm-up stretches before the game resumed. East had the ball and then there was a roar, first play in the 2nd qtr when Charleston middle linebacker Garrett Loughridge intercepted a pass and eventually the West scored. And for the West the storm on the field did not get any better. I really watched Charleston’s offense tackle Ryan Keener make some exciting blocks on a tough defensive East team. Ryan got here because he was a prime offensive player for Charleston and several conference coaches saw that in him also. But there takes 11 men on a team and Keener did his part. Later the East does an onside kick and recovers the ball managing to add another touchdown. There were all kinds of talent on the field it was just that as the old saying goes, the ball just bounced the wrong way. The weather began to clear up some as the 1st half was coming to a close. But the East went into the locker room with a 35 point lead 42 to 7.
Beginning the 3rd qtr things settled down some. Scoring was not quite as fast. The East made yet another touchdown but missed the extra point going up 48 to 7. With 1:24 left in the 3rd qtr the West was able to manage another touchdown and the extra point finishing out the 3rd qtr score 48 to 14.
As the 4th and final qtr began you could see coaches shuffling players in and out to make sure everyone got to play. After all, this would be that last football game of these young men’s high school career. Some players have already signed letters of intent to play college ball. The West was unable to score any more touchdowns and the East managed to get one more to make the final score East 55 West 14. This one was in the books but for these young men there will be memories of a lifetime.