End of an Era: Four seniors like no other
When the word “team” makes its way into the brain, what is the first definition that comes to mind?
Is it a group of athletes? What about a band of brothers or sisters?
What if someone told you there was a group of seniors on the Harmony Grove senior girls basketball team that had more than most teams could ever hope for?
Of course, everyone wants to win it all in their last year. That is a given. But not winning it all and knowing that a team has given it its all in every game of the final season speaks louder than a title or any hardware could ever scream.
But this group is not a normal group of four. The team members are all different in appearance — from size to height to hair color.
Upon first sight, these girls have nothing in common. It is not until they put on the matching jerseys with the words “Lady Cardinals” emblazoned on the chest that newcomers realize that these girls have a lot more in common than just being classmates.
It all started in 2004 when the four girls stepped onto their home floor as a member of the 2004-05 fifth-grade Lady Cardinals basketball team.
From that point on, these girls would change the history of Harmony Grove basketball for ever.
Haley Barnett, Morgan Ramsey, Torie Simmons and Macy Coffee now were all a part of a winning combination that would take control of the rich and respected sports program in the little town of Haskell.
That fifth-grade team went undefeated in its first year of play.
But now, fifth grade is just a memory.
Now there are plenty of hardware and years behind the four seniors as they edge closer to graduation every day.
But let’s get back to the meaning of a team.
With these four, it is the bond that they have with one another that helped Harmony Grove battle through a tough 11-15 season in 2012.
“We have chemistry,” Simmons said.
Make that a whole lot of chemistry, Coffee added.
“Our whole basketball team has chemistry,” Coffee said, “but we four, when we are on the floor, we can almost, every time, tell you what each other is going to do because we have been around each other for so long,” Simmons said.
“We know when each other is upset and when they are not showing it,” Coffee added.
Coffee also said that this bond didn’t just start over the past couple of years. Coffee and Barnett became close friends when Coffee moved to Harmony Grove in the second grade. With Simmons and Ramsey already in the Harmony Grove system since kindergarten, it wasn’t until a year later before all four girls became inseparable.
“We have been best friends ever since,” Coffee added. “We are not just teammates and friends on the court,” Barnett said. “We are best friends at school. too.”
It is not too common that a team has four seniors in a single season. Even more uncommon is having to change coaches during the high school years of basketball. But for the four seniors, coaching changes just add to the already great story of a team that never gave up.
Brad Matthews began as coach with the seniors during their first year at the senior high level in 2009-10. Coming from Harmony Grove’s arch rival Glen Rose, it looked as if Matthews might settle in at Harmony Grove for years to come. That was not the case as Matthews exited his seat as head girls coach after only two seasons at the helm to take the Bryant job.
Though losing a head coach was tough, it only helped build a stronger bond between the four seniors.
The girls were able to sum up the fact that Matthews’ leaving helped form a stronger relationship between them with one word: “Definitely.”
But Matthews is not the only coach that has made a life-changing and unforgettable impact in the lives of the four girls. Ricky Mooney might just be the closest thing to a second father figure they could get.
“Mooney has brought a sense of sincerity to me,” Simmons said. “He is able to calm someone down whether they are terrified or excited. He is kind of the backbone of every sport here because everyone loves Mooney at Harmony Grove.”
Coffee had many of the same thoughts, but added a laugh to the story.
“Like when something happens in a game and you are really embarrassed — like when you shoot an air ball on a free throw, Mooney is always there to make you laugh,” Coffee said. “He always has something to say like, ‘Hey. why don’t you hit the rim next time?”
“He always has to get the laugh in,” Barnett said.
“He kind of knocks down the stress level a little,” Simmons said.
But for one of the seniors, Mooney has been so much more. Like when times were hard, Mooney was always there for her.
Unable to talk, with tears in her eyes, Ramsey was able to share a thoughts on Mooney. “I have been through a lot this year and Coach Mooney would be there for me no matter what,” she said. “He is a guy that I can depend on.”
But something else this group has that is different from other teams is the fact that just like a father figure in Mooney, the girls also have a second mom in head softball coach Sammie Massey. “Coach Massey is out mom away from our mom,” Simmons said. “She is very supportive in everything we do whether it is athletics or school. I could tell her that I was going to drive to Canada and she would say, ‘OK, be careful.’
“She is that supportive and she has been there for us since fifth-grade and it is going to be hard to leave her,” Simmons added.
Just like the jokester that she is, Coffee added another laugh to the conversation. “Coach Massey threatened to ground me,” Coffee said with a laugh. “She threatened to take my phone away if I didn’t get my grades up.”
But with Matthews leaving and being so close to Massey and Mooney, this season was a huge change from the past few seasons with the new hire of John White as head girls basketball coach. While they were trying to figure him out early in the season, by the end of the year, the seniors found themselves wanting to learn more.
“I feel like we just now got the hang of Coach White,” Simmons said.
“With Coach Matthews, we were in set plays all of the time,” Coffee said. “With Coach White, we were in continuity plays and it took a long time to get used to it. I feel like we are just now getting the hang of it.”
“He has opened a whole new door for the whole team,” Barnett said. “We have played better and harder than we did last year. He has made us better.”
“I wish I would have known him longer,” Simmons said. “I wish I could have worked with him longer as a coach.”
For many athletes growing up, there is always an idol to emulate, but for these seniors, these role models weren’t celebrities. Instead, they were all Harmony Grove graduates and ex-Lady Cardinals.
Coffee’s idol was Brittany Raper, a big and powerful post player. Simmons named two idols. “Mine were Amanda Lloyd and Lindsey Simmons,” Torie said.
But for a tearful Ramsey, hers was one of the best 3-point shooters in Harmony Grove’s history in Gabby Ferguson. “She could hit 3’s like nobody’s business,” Ramsey said.
But now that their careers are over, the 2012 seniors now are stepping into the idol light as they play that role for future Lady Cardinals.
The Final Game
How does an individual feel before stepping onto the playing surface for possibly the last time? More nervous than ever? Palms sweating more than usual? Or is she ready for battle? Is she ready to fight harder and fiercer than ever before in the previous eight years of a career?
For this group, joy and happiness ended with lots of tears and sadness as the season and careers came to a close forever. The final buzzer stopped time in its tracks. “It felt weird,” Coffee said. “It was hard because in the past we have always been like, ‘dang, it’s over, but there is always next year. Now there is no next year.”
“I didn’t hit me until we got into the locker room and saw everyone else’s faces,” Barnett said.
“When that final horn went off, it felt weird because your first initial thought is that there is always next year, but they you realize that there is no next year,” Simmons said. “The game was over and the adrenalin was done and the wheel started turning and then we realized that there was nothing left to do here.”
In Coffee’s final moments, she was sitting on the bench and watching her team make a huge comeback to pull the game to within two points.
“It was at that point that I told myself that I really love my team,” Coffee said. “But I started thinking to myself and asking if I had done everything I could have to win.”
“We all sat our Facebook statuses to ‘go hard or go home’ that day,” Barnett said. “I feel that even though we lost and went home that we still went home with our integrity and with the thought that we played our best game all season.”
But it was more than just the four seniors who played a role on the Lady Cardinals team.
“For the girls that sit on the bench and never play a single minute or second, they never gave up,” Simmons said. “Even though they might have known that they were not going to play in that game, they still cheered us on and still supported us. At the end of that ball game, we were still a family just like we were when we came into the game.
“We still had each other’s backs once we got dressed and left that locker room,” Simmons said. But for a still tearful Ramsey, her thoughts were a little closer to her heart. “I felt like one of my greatest friendships ended when that buzzer went off,” Ramsey said. “I just wish I was furthering my basketball career.” The Lady Cardinals ended the basketball career with a tough loss to Arkansas Baptist 53-48 on Feb. 15.
Life After Basketball
When you are in grade school, it seems like senior year will never get there. But now that the season and career are over for the four seniors, they have started to come back to reality and realize that basketball is over. “There is no life after basketball,” Coffee said. “It is over.”
But for three of the four, softball is right around the corner. For Barnett, work is the next step in life.
Simmons quickly added that basketball is not totally out of their lives. She added that they will still be able to play in the old gym on the weekends.
“I am going to miss wearing these uniforms,” Coffee said as she look at the number 33 on her shirt and read the words “Lady Cardinals” once again. “There will be no more organized basketball for us,” Simmons said.
“It’s going to be weird coming back next year and watching the Lady Cardinals play,” Barnett said.
“It will be the first time that I will watch the Lady Cardinals play from the stands since fifth grade,” Simmons added.
For a group that is so much into basketball, the softball season is a drastic change. “I want our softball team to be as close as our basketball team,” Coffee said. “This was the first year that I felt that the basketball team was a legit family. We didn’t have any drama.
“I am really scared that our softball team will not be like that,” Coffee added. “I hope and pray that it is though.” “I know that the seniors are going to do everything they can to make the softball team like family,” Simmons said. But the goal is to win it all and go out on top. Coffee is optimistic about the school’s chances in 2012. “We are going to win state, I’m just going to throw that out there,” Coffee said.
“One of the most important things is that we are going to have fun and we are going to be good,” Simmons said.
When the seniors walked off the floor after the last game, they left a legacy of achievement and awards that may be hard to match in the coming year for Lady Cardinal basketball.
Combined, the seniors have 32 years of basketball experience with 12 years of letter at the senior high level. Ramsey has two All-Conference honors while Simmons and Coffee each have an All-Conference Honorable Mention.
As for the 2011-12 basketball season, the seniors totaled more than 500 points with 19 double-digit scoring games. Ramsey had 12 of those. Ramsey also scored at least 20 four times. She scored 26 in her final game for a season high.
As for softball, between Ramsey, Coffee and Simmons, they have four All-State and five All-Conference awards.
They will begin their quest to finish on top with a state title on Tuesday. Start time is to be announced.
Ramsey has also played tennis for three years while Simmons has played golf for four. Barnett was a cheerleader up until the beginning of last year when she quit to better herself at basketball.
It is doubtful that there will be another group of seniors like this one come through Harmony Grove for many years. Once graduation is over, Ramsey and Simmons will make their way off to Russellville to attend Arkansas Tech University. Simmons hopes to pursue her golfing career with a walk-on attempt. Ramsey said she really loves math and basketball but is still unclear as to what she wants to do.
Barnett and Coffee will head to the University of Central Arkansas. Barnett is hoping for a choir scholarship while Coffee is trying to further her softball career. Barnett has been named to the All-Region Choir for four consecutive years.