Little Rock is officially a basketball city.
A record 84,000 fans poured into Barton Coliseum for the three-day high school basketball finals. For five hours Saturday, fans didn't move in or out of the old arena. At least 8,000 hoop hungry fans stayed put for the final three games of championship week.
That old arena gets loud!!!
The highlight of championship week came early in the 4th quarter of Saturday afternoon's 7A boys final. A gutsy Fayetteville squad had just scored to grab the lead from the top ranked North Little Rock Charging Wildcats. The next 6:51 was electric. North Little Rock crammed a season's worth of spectacular plays into one game-changing run. A crowd estimated at 10,000 reacted to every dunk, slick ball handling move and crazy pass.
How loud were the Jonesboro students? Ask Mike Anderson. The Razorback head coach who made the quick trip to Little Rock after leading his Hogs past Texas A&M, was sitting around five feet in front of the Jonesboro students.
In a new championship week twist, students from the participating schools were allowed to stand behind the basket. All that was separating Coach A from the Jonesboro bunch was a restraining bar. I have a feeling his ears were still ringing on his way back to Fayetteville.
Having the students behind the goals added to the championship game atmosphere. I also applaud Barton Coliseum for adding seating between the playing court and the grandstand. Padded folding chairs were available to fans who arrived first. It added to the Coliseum look and the atmosphere.
If you follow any high school media member on Twitter, you probably read complaints about the media experience. They really didn't have an interview room. Coaches and players had to stand between two tables while doing post-game interviews. One plus from the intimate setting: you got to visit eye-to-eye with kids and coaches just minutes after a huge event. I didn't hear one coach make an excuse. They used this time to brag about their kids and their special season.
Overall, I thought the folks in charge did a good job making it an experience to remember for the teams and their fans. I think it showed us again that there is something special about playing the biggest games of the high school season in the state's biggest city. It's my hope that the folks across the river at Verizon Arena will become a player in the high school finals in the near future.
I know that Hot Springs - which did a great job hosting the finals for three years - will make a strong bid to host the games again. The big question is: will Little Rock or North Little Rock try to capitalize on this record run by making an offer the Arkansas Activities Association can't turn down?
It should be an easy decision for two good basketball cities.