The Helena-West Helena Central Cougars ended the regular season Tuesday night on the road at Dumas with a 61-52 win. The Cougars are 20-1 and haven’t lost a game since December 15th.
After the Cougars defeated sixth ranked Stuttgart, which was ranked third at the time, Stuttgart Daily Leader Sports Reporter Cole Sherman wrote, “Helena has positioned themselves to be the number one seed in the upcoming 4A-2 conference tournament. If the Cougars finish the regular season slate with a lone blemish to Stuttgart on their resume it will be hard to give a good reason why the Cougars are not number one. Baptist Prep and Southside will both likely have one blended league loss as well but both of those squads have lost five and four games in their overall schedule. With the blended schedule however, there is no way to know for sure.”
Sherman’s last sentence proved to be prophetic because when the 2-4A coaches gathered together, they ignored what was so obvious that Mr. Magoo could see it without his glasses and dropped the Cougars to a #3 seed. The Cougars are set to face the Riverview Raiders, the tournament hosts, in the opening round on Wednesday, hardly the kind of game most 20-1 teams get rewarded with for a first round contest.
Two years ago, the AAA went to blended 4A/3A conferences for the regular season in an effort to reduce travel. Travel was reduced but seeding for the post season when the teams separated back out in the post for their regular conference tournaments was hardly scientific. The result is obvious. Those with the political clout get the benefit of votes. These coaches can’t say with a straight face this is about merit because it obviously isn’t.
Most basketball observers expected controversy in this conference with three blended conference champions, the other two being Baptist Prep, which has been the top-ranked team by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette all season and the Southside Southerners. Each team lost one time in conference play. The Cougars had the loss to Stuttgart, which is probably the best loss of the three since Stuttgart is 19-3 and ranked sixth by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Baptist Prep’s conference loss was to Class 4A Robinson. Southside had the worst of the three conference losses to Class 3A Tuckerman. Who did these basketball experts make the #1 seed? You guessed it. It was the Southerners, the team with the worst conference loss. The Colonel Reb looking figure that is their mascot is probably somewhere laughing while drinking a mint julep.
The argument everyone expected for the top line would be a spirited debate between the Cougars and the Baptist Prep Eagles. Instead, it was a good ole boy network of horse trades to shaft the Cougars once again.
We should have known that something was up when Riverview knew a week ago to come scout the Cougars. Of all the games to scout that night, the Raiders staff already had insight that they would be facing Helena-West Helena, and the game was played five days in advance of the conference meeting. If you don’t believe there was collusion taking place before this meeting then you probably don’t believe that anyone around Trump talked to the Russians either.
As if what happened to our boys wasn’t bad enough, let’s take a look at what this bunch of Hazzard County types did to the Lady Cougars. With a 17-4 overall record and the third best among the teams in conference play, the Lady Cougars walk out with a 6-seed with a first round game against, you guessed it, the tournament hosts at Riverview.
When you go 17-4 and 13-3 in conference play, you shouldn’t have a seed that low. But this isn’t new for Helena-West Helena Central when it comes to dealing with the processes and institutions of the Arkansas Activities Association. We have documented in this space previously the ridiculous travel in conference assignments over the years and for the next cycle. This basketball seeding of our teams for the conference tournament after excellent seasons is just another example of dealing with the Boss Hogg types that make the rules and do so without regard to fair play or reason.
When asked what the reasons given for our low-seeding were, Athletic Director Russell Smith and Lady Cougar Coach Kevin Pringle told me simply that was how the coaches voted. Sports is one part of American society where merit and performance should clearly matter. The best are sorted out on the floor and are rewarded for it. That’s what I was taught on the field and on the court. Today’s AAA sends message after message, at least as it pertains to Helena-West Helena, that merit isn’t the measuring stick. Fair play isn’t the rule of the day. It’s as political as a meeting with Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer sorting out who gets into this country and who doesn’t and how high the wall will be. And if politics is going to rule the day in the Arkansas Activities Association, then maybe it is time for the legislature to step in to Boss Hogg’s domain and level the playing field for everyone, not just those with the titles and probably a Bassett Hound named Flash.