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story.lead_photo.caption White County Central High School students Seth Brown, left, and Jessica Jones take up tickets at the front door of the gymnasium during the Class 2A State Basketball Tournament on Feb. 28. Brown is a sophomore, and Jones is a junior. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

— Donald Starkey, athletic director for the White County Central School District, deemed his school’s hosting of the Class 2A State Basketball Tournament a success.

The district’s gym, which was rebuilt in 2015, hosted the best boys and girls teams in the state’s second-lowest classification Feb. 28 through March 3.

“We got a lot of compliments from the teams, which was really important to us,” said Starkey, who is in his ninth year at the school. “They really enjoyed playing in our facility. They enjoyed the way we put the tournament on and how smoothly it ran. The community was excited. Visitors who came in were very complimentary to us. The Arkansas

Activities Association told us how good a job we did. We feel like we had a very successful tournament.”

Girls teams participating in the state tournament were Caddo Hills, Bigelow, Brinkley, Earle, Poyen, Hackett, Quitman, Carlisle, Murfreesboro, Spring Hill, Johnson County Westside and Marmaduke.

Semifinals games the last day were Earle and Caddo Hills, with Earle winning 64-27, and Quitman and Westside, with Quitman winning 58-50.

Earle beat Quitman 48-43 to win the state title at Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs on March 8.

Boys teams participating were Parkers Chapel, England, East Poinsett County, Earle, Camden Harmony Grove, Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter, White County Central, Clarendon, Mountain Pine, Bearden, Quitman and Marked Tree.

Semifinal games the last day were Earle and Parkers Chapel, with Earle winning 59-45, and Marked Tree and Clarendon, with Marked Tree winning 68-65. Earle defeated Marked Tree to win the state championship 69-52 on March 8 in Hot Springs.

The tournament offered a chance for the district to showcase its 1,850-seat, renovated facility.

At the end of the 2014-15 basketball season, construction got underway to tear out the lobby and concession area of the gym and redo the interior of the existing facility, Starkey said.

“We wanted to increase our seating and update our gym,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we wanted to spend the kind of money that it takes to build a new one. Most people who step in there can’t tell it’s not new.”

Starkey said no millage increase was asked for to fund the project. He said existing bonds were refinanced for the remodel, which included end-zone seats on the south end of the gym. New seating was installed, as well as new goals. The playing floor is the original one; [it’s] just been redone.

“And we put air conditioning in it,” Starkey said. “We did a lot of painting and touch-ups.”

The state tournament was White County Central’s first foray into hosting a state-level tournament since hosting a regional tournament in 2010. White County Central also hosted the Class A State Tournament in 1997.

“We thought it would be a great thing for our kids and our community,” Starkey said of hosting the state tournament. “Of course, it’s good for your school to be recognized for holding a state tournament like that.”

White County Central’s boys basketball team lost its only game in the tournament to Clarendon, 56-28. While the outcome wasn’t what the local fans wanted, it was still a great atmosphere when they played March 2, Starkey said.

“We had a great turnout from the community that was here,” he said. “The students were excited and filled up the student section. The spirit was good. Everyone was fired up about it. It really showed our enthusiasm and our pride for our school. I was very pleased with the turnout we had from the community and also our student body.”

Starkey said hosting the state tournament is also good for his school’s entire athletic program.

“We just wanted people to see that we’re here, we’re alive, and we’re well,” he said. “We thought it would also help our athletic programs for our kids to be able to watch state-quality teams play right here in their backyard and help us take the next step in our athletic program.”

A benefit from hosting a state tournament is that money is being spent in the area. With Judsonia being so close to Searcy, many visitors to the state tournament dined and stayed in Searcy, said Buck Layne, Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce president.

“Anytime you have visitors to your town, and they come and spend the night and spend money in the town — at retail establishments and restaurants — that’s a positive,” Layne said. “It’s called tourism.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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