By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
The matchup is personal.
When Doyle Rowland saw the outcomes of the other Class 6A regional tournament finals being played Saturday, and learned from it that Muskogee’s 6:30 p.m. East Area championship game tonight would be against Tulsa Washington, the coach's juices began flowing — along with some history.
“I don’t like Booker T. Washington,” he said in the spirit of the rivalry. “It’s part of who I am.”
Not the man, the school.
Rowland, who graduated with the first integrated class at Muskogee High School in 1971 after attending Manual Training High School up to his final year, saw the rivalry at both schools not as much on the basketball court, but in football.
“I remember playing them when they had Reuben Gant (Oklahoma State and NFL standout lineman),” he said. “You have to go back a few years but this was a rivalry that means a lot to a whole lot of people, not just me. My 90-year-old mom (Alto Rowland) has all my life told me how in her days as a band member they’d fight tooth and nail in everything, how when the two played they’d fill four train cars for the ride to Tulsa.
“Then there was 1986 — the last football state championship Muskogee won came against them (14-12).”
Assistant coach Shonika Breedlove remembers the rivalry as a basketball player in the 90s.
“My senior year we beat them twice. Ended up having to play them at BA in the area finals. (Former coach Lucky) Tarkington talked to us about how hard it is to beat a team three times. It was another tough game but we prevailed to go to the tournament for the fourth year in a row for us.”
It hasn’t been an active rivalry in a while. On the hardwoods, girls version, the last meetings between the two came in 2008-09 — ironically, Rowland’s first year as coach. And they are two games Rowland might just as soon forget, in a forgettable initiation into 6A basketball.
Booker T. took both games, 72-26 in Tulsa and 81-35 at Muskogee. The Lady Hornets, No. 1 in 5A in both meetings, went on to take state. Rowland, meanwhile, looked forward to the coming of Alexus Wilson and Kelsey McClure, part of this year’s senior class, both four-year starters for his current club.
Now, Muskogee is where Washington is. The Lady Roughers are 20-5 and ranked No. 2, four spots ahead of Washington (23-2).
And Rowland is, well, shall we say anxious for the reunion?
“They’re scrappy, they are great at 50-50 ball and they rebound well,” he said. “They’re good but we’re pretty good too.”
Kaylan Mayberry, the younger sister of Taleya Mayberry and another daughter of NBA and former Arkansas Razorback Lee Mayberry, is a 5-foot-5 forward who averages 11.2 points per game. MaKenzie Ellis (9.18), a 6-1 post, and forward MiKayla Alexander (8.4) are close behind.
McClure leads Muskogee at 22 points per game and Wilson 14.
Both are aware of the history. Rowland made it a point before Tuesday’s practice to go into detail.
“It’s pretty crazy stuff, a wild rivalry,” Wilson said. “He got pretty mad reliving it for us and if he’s mad, we’re going to be mad and we’ll use it for motivation.”
Wilson’s gut would tell coach “We got this.” She did, in so many words, in her matchup analysis.
“I don’t think they can run with us if we’re on our A-game,” she said. “I’ve seen their man (defense) and it’s not as intense as ours can be. Plus our post (Mari Jackson) can play inside and outside versus theirs who is pretty much outside.”
But hated rivalry? Probably not as much.
“Aaliyah (Alexus’ freshman sister and a guard) and I played with Kaylan so we know her well,” Wilson said, referring to summer ball with Mayberry.
That relationship is on the backburner tonight. Muskogee would prefer to avoid a consolation route to state with a game against the Jenks-Union winner back at Catoosa on Saturday afternoon. Jenks is 2-0 against the Lady Roughers and Union knocked off MHS two weeks ago to end the regular season.
“This is the preferred route to get to state,” Rowland said.
And for him, it’s personal.