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Championship plaques were distributed Saturday night to signal the end to another season of high school basketball in Arkansas.

That's a fact, but it wasn't always the case.

Oh, you haven't heard?

Well, put your cellphone down for a few minutes, kids, and let Papa Ricky tell you about the olden days of high school basketball in Arkansas.

There was a time when people involved with high school athletics refused to allow pollsters to decide who were the best overall boys and girls teams in Arkansas. The Internet didn't exist back then, meaning people actually had to prove what they bragged about instead of posting behind a fake name on a message board.

Started in 1972, the Overall Tournament matched champions from different classifications in Arkansas. The larger schools usually won, but not always.

Have you seen the movie Hoosiers, the inspirational story where tiny Hickory (actually it was Milan) beat long odds when schools large and small played for one championship in Indiana? It's a true story, much like the true story in Arkansas in 1979 when the Parkdale Dragons won the Overall Tournament.

Parkdale High School no longer exists, the victim of consolidation in 1994 with Hamburg. But the Class B school near the Louisiana border was the undisputed king of Arkansas basketball in 1979.

That was the year Parkdale beat Marmaduke, which won in overtime against Blytheville, another powerhouse team from Northeast Arkansas. Ronald Claiborne scored 32 points for Parkdale, which finished 42-2 in 1979 after also beating Osceola and Pine Bluff in the Overall Tournament at Conway. That same year Waldo, another school that no longer exists, defeated Alma to win the girls' Overall championship.

So, what happened, you ask, to the Overall Tournament, where state champions from schools large and small got a chance to compete?

The coaches killed it.

I vaguely remember one coach saying to me it wasn't fair that players on his team worked so hard all season to win a state championship, only to end the season a loser after being eliminated in the Overall Tournament. That was the view of most coaches, who ended the tournament after the 1992 season when the Little Rock Parkview boys and Dardanelle girls won the last Overall championships.

There's little chance of bringing the Overall Tournament back. The vast majority of coaches are pleased with the current format, where state tournaments are held at locations throughout the state with the semifinalists advancing to Hot Springs to decide the championships in each class.

I like the format, too, but I can't help but speculate about who is best overall in Arkansas this season.

The Fort Smith Northside boys and girls can claim superiority as the kings and queens of the court after winning back-to-back championships on Friday in Arkansas' largest classification. But are the Grizzlies better than Marion, the Class 5A state champions who finished 25-3 and were ranked No. 1 in most of the polls?

Are the Northside girls better than Batesville, the Class 4A champions who went 30-3?

If there's a Hoosiers type team in Arkansas this season, it's Izard County, which finished 42-4 and won its Class 1A state championship game by 20 points. Class 1A is essentially what Class B used to be in Arkansas, before someone complained to the Arkansas Activities Association that 'Class B' suggested inferiority. But there's nothing inferior about Izard County, a consolidated high school in north-central Arkansas that draws students from small communities like Brockwell, Ash Flat, Violet Hill and Evening Shade.

Izard County beat Springdale Har-Ber and Pulaski Academy by 30 points each and Pine Bluff by nine and lost to Marion by a wide margin. So, it's obvious the Cougars are not afraid to challenge anyone, any time, anywhere, regardless of what classification they are in.

Could Izard County pull a Parkdale and beat much larger schools like Northside or Marion in an Overall Tournament? Who's to say?

But it sure was fun in the olden days, when who is best was decided on the court instead of the polls.

Sports on 03/10/2019

Print Headline: Championships decided, but who is really the best in Arkansas?


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Archived Comments

  • MaxCady
    March 10, 2019 at 5:10 p.m.

    The 1976 Conway Wampus Cats were the best basketball team in the state, ever! 36-0! I was there!!

  • MaxCady
    March 10, 2019 at 5:12 p.m.

    To be the man you've got to beat the man.---Ric Flair.

  • JA40
    March 11, 2019 at 9:57 a.m.

    Great article...saw many great teams from northeast Arkansas back in the 60's.....Donnie Kessinger and Forrest City...Don Shatley and Leachville.....Marmaduke....and many more. Great Basketball.