HOT SPRINGS — After a crazy, last-minute flurry that had many in the crowd holding their breaths, the game went into overtime.
After another wild scramble in the last minute of overtime, the game was won on a drive and a layup with 1.5 seconds left.
Bank of the Ozarks Arena was packed.
There were hugs and tears at the end.
No. We’re not talking about Jonesboro vs. El Dorado, probably the marquee game of the Centennial Bank state championship weekend. That was the next game.
This was the preliminary game to Friday’s continuation of high school state championship games. It was the Upper Division Unified state championship between Conway and Forrest City. Unified basketball, coordinated by Special Olympics, has blended teams of v0lunteer students without disabilities and players with slight disabilities (three disabled among the five at at time).
Don’t call this an undercard. This was as exciting a finish as you will see all weekend.
It’s certainly the most inspiring.
In this season with so much intensity and so much at stake and so much out of perspective, everybody should see a game like this.
Conway defeated Forrest City, 26-24, to repeat as state Unified champs.
“This was as exciting as any football game I’ve ever been in,” said Parker Teague, one of the players and mentors who was the Conway High School quarterback and a son of UCA athletic director Brad Teague. “This was fun and a good feeling. “
This is not about athletic ability. It’s about heart and passion. It’s about relationships
“These are my good friends,” Teague said about his fellow players. “I play with the every day. We do things with each other. I look forward to it. “
Berris, Teague’s sister and a sophomore, got involved by watching how it benefitted her brother.
“I’ve known Cheryl Daniels (who heads the Conway program) ever since I’ve been in Conway. She told me I had no option. But I enjoy it. We’re good friends and we’re with them daily. It’s great to see them so excited. We love each other.”
While you see a few awkward shot, there were also some impressive 3-pointers.
If you scan the court, it’s not easy to spot the players who have disabilities.
“We get to know these kids as people,” said Miller Myers, one of the student coaches who got involved this year as an 11th-grader. “These players are some of my closest friends. A lot of people are scared to talked to some of these kinds. But they are people just as we are. They like to play just as we do. They want friendship just like we do. They have the same feelings we do.”
You see more teamwork than you see in more regular games.
“There are no restrictions on the regular players,” Myers said. “But most of the time they will pass up shots to let the more disabled players have them.”
Maddie Hefner, another student coach, was jumping up and down along the sideline and couldn’t stop smiling after the trophy ceremony.
“These players make my day each and every day,” she said. “Being with them an hour a day just changes things. No matter how I’m feeling, it just changes my mood knowing they they love me and they are my good friends. A lot of people think they are getting a lot out of what I do. Actually, I get more out of it with what they do.”
With an eight-minute constantly running clock, every possession is precious. Every shot is big.
Some might have called this back-and-forth contest sloppy — with lots of turnovers, some extremely errant shots and some amazing baskets and between-the-legs dribbles.
It was two teams, with individuals of various challenges, playing hard and playing together and playing and mentoring for each other. The competition and the desire were the great equalizers.
I’d call it beautiful.