It’s the season of streaks — streaks that have unearthed no peer.
Fort Gibson’s 16 years of a Lady Tigers basketball team at the state tournament. Sequoyah’s tandem eight consecutive streaks between their boys and girls.
And it all travels U.S. 62 into the top of the record books, according to Chris Wilfong, who archives state records at Iwasatthegame.com.
“It’s jaw-dropping,” Chuck London, who took the baton on Fort Gibson’s streak three seasons ago, winning the school’s fourth title in his first go.
“Other than that, I don’t know what to say. Sixteen. People have come to think it’s easy to get to the state tournament. It’s never easy.”
Anyone around Fort Gibson’s practices know this — the tension in the playoff practices leading up the goal. Not that the journey has ended, but the big hurdle — the one ensuring the preservation of the streak — has been scaled, so time to let your hair down, take a deep breath, re-energize, reach in and see if you can grab some gold.
“The weeks before state are stressful and intense,” said Fort Gibson point guard Zoey Whiteley. “You know it’s part of it, and once we’re here it’s more like go do your best and have fun.”
Sequoyah girls coach Justin Brown walked into this tradition this season.
“You can come to a place that has had success and try and reinvent the wheel or butt heads,” said Brown, who wisely opted not to do that. He didn’t need to.
Like the kids, it was a smooth handoff from Larry Callison to the former Locust Grove mentor last spring, and one thing struck Brown soon after.
“There’s things we do here that in 20 years of public education I haven’t been able to experience,” he said. “The support they give to the kids here, they walk the walk instead of talking about it, all the way down the line, everyone I’ve had a chance to work with.
“Including the kids. You call a practice on a Sunday, everyone is there. Any idea I’ve had, again all the way down the line, they’ve been like let’s get it done. And I think that has everything to do with the results.”
The Lady Indians have won five titles and are looking for their second scenario of three titles in four seasons. These runs have been led by three D1 signees. The first, Angel Goodrich, played at Kansas then for several teams in the WNBA, and a teammate, Lorin Hammer, played at Mercer. The current one, Lexy Keys, is headed for Texas-Arlington next season.
The boys have one title, and that one was won by its only Division I signee. Solomon HorseChief went to Pacific after junior college.
That title was 2003.
“I’d like to win another, but we’re pretty proud of the streak and overall, though few people realize it with the state titles the girls have won, over 20 years the boys have gone more and we’re pretty proud of that just as we are what they’ve accomplished,” said Indians coach Jay Herrin.
There could have been more titles. But a couple of guys named Griffin (Blake and Taylor) got in the way in 2005. Millwood, with Gerald Jones and Tramain Swindall in 2007, and career scoring record holder Rotnei Clarke and Verdigris in 2008 in what was the largest crowd ever to see a playoff game at the Big House and also the year the Lady Indians lost a bid to be the first-ever four peat champion.
Those kind of players may have had a challenge fitting in to what has been a successful formula at Sequoyah.
“We’re not a public school, we’re not a private school, we’re a Native American boarding school where 90 percent of the kids are from the surrounding area,” Herrin said. “We’re doing this with kids who aren’t highly recruited.
“I’ve had one all-stater in 10 years (Tyeus Daugherty). We don’t get the 6-6 or 6-8 D1 or D2 kids. We’ll get guys that we will make work, and we believe our strength comes form our team. Kids who come here as a big fish in a little pond looking for their shot every time are not going to fit into our team concept of sharing the ball and playing defense.”
This group fits that. It’s unlikely that one will sign to play college ball, but it’s a group that had two kids off the bench play key roles in a rally past Beggs in the area consolation final.
It’s a group, like the others, that is motivated by one primary goal.
“No group wants to be the group that ends the streak.”
It binds them all together.