LITTLE ROCK — Assigned to a day and night of basketball at Barton Coliseum, the young sportswriters split up the games and the luck of the draw included the first look at a highly touted team from Northeast Arkansas.
To protect the innocent, call them the Bulldogs. Well, the Bulldogs bombed. The opponent’s press produced a plethora of turnovers and a smart-aleck’s lead paragraph said something like “So and so might be good, but we’ll never know because they couldn’t get the ball across midcourt …”
The next day, the head coach of the losing team approached a media member, said he did not appreciate the tone of the story, and asked him to identify the author. Moments later, the author entered the lounge area where media and coaches mingled.
“That’s him,” the media man said.
The under-sized coach took one look at the 220-pound college student and decided to wait another day.
Fond memories from Barton vary. Terry Hartwick, president and chief executive officer of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, remembers getting to the arena shortly after noon, watching multiple games with his father, ducking out for a scrumptious footlong at a popular drive-in near the front gate, and then returning for more basketball.
Part of his pitch to the Arkansas Activities Association for holding the 14 state tournament finals at Barton was the creation of memories for the players — many of whom were playing in front of a caring crowd for the last time — and their families.
Because of the Saturday schedule and the capacity of Barton, participants in the Class 1A girls final will be talking about the March 9, 2013, atmosphere at their 20th high school reunion.
Nevada and Weiner played the 2:30 p.m. game, the one preceding North Little Rock vs. Fayetteville boys in the 7A finals. To make certain of finding a seat, the crowd arrived early for the 4:15 p.m. tip.
Officially, attendance for the girls game topped 7,000. Consider what that was like for the players.
The Nevada school is located in Rosston, a town of less than 270 and the Nevada County seat is Prescott, population about 3,300. Weiner’s population is 716 with 135 kids in a high school that the Arkansas Board of Education recently voted to close on July 1. Residents cried at the news.
Total attendance for the three days of basketball topped 80,000 because fans are counted separately for each game they attend, but tickets sold at $8 will probably be around 25,000 to 26,000. Hartwick’s bid included a guarantee of $140,000 to the Arkansas Activities Association, plus paying for rooms, etc., for the participating teams. All told, the cost will be about $225,000, something of a gamble for Hartwick. But, thanks to various sponsors, there will be a small profit, he said.
One-game attendance peaked at 9,018 for North Little Rock-Fayetteville. Hartwick was told that Barton normally accommodates just over 7,000 with a maximum of 9,500. He asked for the max, including small risers behind each baseline for high school students. Such intimacy is not available at all venues.
Virtually all sight lines at the 61-year-old Barton are good. Sprucing up included refinishing the basketball court, updating the lighting and the sound system, and painting seats, among other things. Hartwick credited Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola for coming up with the money.
I did not attend, but the only complaints I heard were from media who said the work area was cramped. Aware of that, Hartwick said a trailer could be set up to accommodate media and-or coaches in the future.
That response prompted a follow-up about submitting a bid in June for the 2014 finals. If asked on the Monday after, he said, the answer was no. On the following Tuesday, maybe. By that Wednesday, most likely.
Hot Springs is expected to bid, maybe others.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.