In the midst of the euphoria of a state 7A championship for the Conway girls basketball team, a sudden realization hit coach Ashley Nance.
“I’ve got to do something to get (championship) rings paid for,” she said. “The girls had worked so hard; they deserved rings.”
A single ring, commemorating the title, costs about $220.
“I knew paying for a ring would put a strain on the players and their families,” she said. “That’s all the kids talked about during the whole process that they were gonna get rings. The trophy is nice but rings are something they can take with them the rest of their lives that they can show to their children and grandchildren. I knew I was going to have to find a way to pay for them.”
She sent out letters and received several private donations, which helped prime the pump.
Then, she took a chance.
“When we won the (2A) state title at Conway Christian, Randy Sims at Centennial Bank bought our team’s rings,” Nance said, noting that Sims had been a big CCS supporter and had had children attend the school. “Our football field is Centennial Bank Field, I thought, why not, You never know.”
Sims and Centennial Bank agreed to pay the bulk of the cost of the rings and a check will be presented to Nance and her players during a pep rally Friday morning at Buzz Bolding Arena.
“That took a big burden off,” Nance said. “It’s great to have the kind of community and corporate support you get in Conway for both public and private schools.”
Also during the celebration Friday, Senior-to-be Jordan Danberry, the Most Valuable Player of the state tournament, will be presented a trophy for being selected the Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year in Arkansas. Mayor Tab Townsell will read a proclamation from the city in recognizing the team.
“Since we won the championship and spring break came shortly afterwards, we really haven’t done anything to recognize the girls,” she said. “We’re going to gather the student body in the area for a pep rally.”
She said the championship, and the prospect of rings, have already had a positive effect on her team and the younger players in the program.
“Since we have gotten back to school, there has been a lot of talk and more players want to try out and be evaluated,” she said. “The championship and rings are a big part of that. It’s contagious.”
The Lady Cats return almost every member of that title team plus senior-to-be Kianna Speight, who missed the season with a ACL season.
“Kianna was such a leader, our floor leader, and a big part of our team and I think losing her was a reason we struggled sometimes early,” said Nance, whose team won 11 straight games to end the season and claim the title. “Now, she’s back and going through our offseason workouts and the weight room. A big motivation for this team now is to give her a chance to play in the state tournament.”
The Lady Cats will be a strong favorite for a repeat next season.
“I think that’s a positive factor with these girls,” Nance said. “As soon as the state championship game was over and we were in the locker room, the players were ready to go to work and get back. They were asking then, ‘When do we start offseason?’ I told them that I needed a couple of weeks off and they needed a couple of weeks off to get their legs back. Then, we would go back to work.
“But I have been encouraged by that attitude. So many players nowadays like to live in the moment. I told them that they are the team everybody will be after next year. It’s a motivation. They are already working hard to get better.”
But Friday, Conway will hit the pause button and revel in what has been accomplished.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)