W women's team, Heritage boys enjoy tribute

April 10, 2019 10:18:34 AM

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BY PAUL D. BOWKER 

 

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The screams and the cheering began even before the large red double-decker Columbus Historic Tours bus turned onto Main Street in downtown Columbus on Tuesday night. 

 

A group of players from the Mississippi University for Women's softball team took their spots at the top part of Main and cheered on their classmates, who had won a national championship in women's basketball a few weeks ago. 

 

Parade time had arrived. 

 

Their cheers began a rocking party stretching down Main Street, a celebration that also included the Overall State Championship boys basketball team from Heritage Academy. 

 

Torrential storms had rained on the planned parade Monday, causing a postponement of the festivities until Tuesday. 

 

But when you've waited since 1971 to celebrate a national championship in women's basketball, what's another day. 

 

Member of The W's basketball team swayed to the music atop their bus, waving to spectators and tossing candy treats below. Police officers blocked off the roads to make way for their hometown heros. 

 

Tenazhia Hinkson, one of just two seniors on this year's team, clutched the national championship trophy. Others made sure to take photos with their phones. 

 

For head coach Howard White Jr., this was all about his players. 

 

"This is something they'll take for the rest of their lives," he said. 

 

And the same for Heritage Academy's boys, who became the first in school history to win a Mississippi Overall State Championship in boys basketball. They rode a truck ahead of the W's bus in the parade and joined the Owls on a stage afterward, where proclamations were issued by city and county officials. 

 

"For them to be recognized in this way by the city, it's something real special," said Heritage Academy coach Russ Whiteside said. 

 

Folks with HA signs lined Main Street to honor the Patriots. 

 

For The W, a 21-6 championship season went deeper than a basketball run in a national tournament. This season's team was the first women's basketball team at The W since a tornado ripped through the campus in 2002, destroying Pohl Gymnasium. Athletics at the university were shut down because of the lack of athletic facilities. 

 

The women's basketball team helped bring athletics back alive the campus with their national championship win on March 9 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Tuesday's festivities seemed to be as much about that. Among those attending were Nora Miller, the school's president, and Robert Smith, Columbus Mayor. 

 

When the Owls disembarked the bus following the parade, they did so between two lines of Owls students who had created a pathway for them. 

 

"This is just a great day," Miller said. "We are so proud of our women's basketball team." 

 

For White, this day had begun months ago, when he pulled together his first team and asked each one of them to accept roles on the team that each Owl accepted. 

 

"Everybody became a star in their role," he said. 

 

The Owls won their last seven consecutive games, including defeating Silver Lake, Paul Quinn and Maine-Fort Kent in the national tournament. 

 

They lost just once in their last 11 games. 

 

And now, there is something about next year. The Owls roster is filled with underclassmen, including 11 sophomores. One of them, Tori Weir, is a Columbus High School graduate. 

 

"Trying to go back-to-back (championships)," White said with a smile. "To lose less than six games."