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McCollum's Column: Another hurdle in the plans for Vilonia teams

Posted: May 16, 2014 - 7:15pm

JACKSONVILLE — For almost three weeks, Vilonia’s athletic teams have been living day-to-day, even hour-to-hour.

They have becomes masters of negotiating Plan B, C and D.

So, what’s a little more chaos thrown into the mix?

Both Vilonia baseball and softball teams won first-round Class 5A state tournament games here Friday, advancing to Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Each of those games were scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.

Vilonia’s graduation is at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“Actually, I think our kids are excited about missing graduation, but I don’t think our school would be,” said Brad Wallace, Vilonia’s baseball coach.

Tournament officials were working Friday to reschedule the baseball and softball games to later in the afternoon.

Three “givens” about high school state tournaments: 1. They almost always are affected by rainy weather. 2. They always conflict with somebody’s graduation. 3. Tournament schedules are just hopes and suggestions.

There are lots of precedents for diplomas presented at home plate.

Both Vilonia teams have been fortunate that the EF4 tornado in late April missed the main high school campus. The teams have been able to practice on the ballfields. The city ballparks were destroyed.

“The Lord has blessed us; all our families are safe,” said Vilonia softball coach Kevin Sullivan. “Two of our kids (Sissa Mulligan and Alexis Hightower) and our pitching coach (Brooke Rexroat) lost their homes (as did volleyball coach Karla Ault).

But being able to play has been a release.

“The Wednesday after the tornado, we were practicing,” said Sullivan. “The kids had been helping clean up for a couple of days and in the morning Wednesday. Being able to practice that Wednesday was good because it allowed us to get away from it.”

“There’s motivation to win a state championship but I don’t want to put too much pressure and to put too much pressure on winning this game or that,” said Wallace. “I just want the kids to go out and play baseball and have fun.”

And all Vilonia athletic teams have been overwhelmed by the acts of goodwill and donations from their rivals.

“It’s been incredible how the Arkansas high school community has responded,” said Sullivan. “Some many teams have contacted about doing something. “These girls have bags of supplies, clothes money and our players all have various gift cards. It’s unbelievable the support.”

And the focus of the Vilonia athletes have been amazing. The Eagles have a state championship and runner-up finish in track and have won conference titles in boys soccer, girls softball and baseball.

“You couldn’t write up a better script than how this team should handle the situation like this,” said Sullivan. “It’s a tribute to them.”

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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