Hoop Dreams: McCall High basketball teams give hope to economically starved area of Tallulah

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 19, 2004

Ten-year-old Allan Vaughn, from left, Shaunta Houston , 13, and Lagarvon Guy, 11, shoot hoops in their yard on Wyche Street in Tallulah. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[1/17/04]TALLULAH Ten-year-old Allan Vaughn stands several inches shorter than his two friends, but he makes up for his lack of size with spunk and heart.

Many of his shots catch plenty of air and not much basket, but he’s the first one racing across the grassy open lot on Wyche Street in the north part of this city to chase down loose balls.

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The basket rattles with each brick thrown its way, but it sure is an improvement from what the boys used to play on.

Before Christmas, the three would shoot baskets into a garbage can placed in the same grassy area as their new hoop. Even with the new basket, the ball bounces awkwardly against the grass “court.” None of the boys seems to mind at all.

Basketball is what they do from the second they get home from school to when the sun bids farewell to another day in this economically depressed part of town.

At the end of Wyche Street sits a brick building with aging window frames and a sign on the gym door with a red circle around a handgun with a red line through it.

For Vaughn and his two buddies, the red school at the end of the block provides a chance at adding to a budding tradition.

At McCall High, basketball is what gives this community something to hold its head up to. The team rarely disappoints its onlookers.

After a pair of wins over Vidalia on Friday night, both the McCall boys and girls teams are ranked No. 1 in the Louisiana Class 2A basketball polls.

“That’s something, isn’t it,” said longtime boys coach Mitchell Riggs, a McCall graduate and coach at the school for 20 years. “It’s hard work, that’s all. Hard work.”

Riggs is a no-nonsense coach. His tall frame and deep voice show quickly he means business.

Never mind his team had just beaten Lake Providence 103-46 on Tuesday, the season is no where close to being over. It was the 23rd victory of the season one less than all of last year and the Dragons are not expecting a day off.

“He makes us work, but it pays off,” said Brandon Gultrey, the Vicksburg Post’s Area Football Player of the Year.

The work begins with an eight-minute nightmare that could be extended four-fold if the team isn’t hustling.

Each player grabs a 10-pound weight in each hand and runs the perimiter of the court.

Riggs’ presence in the fourth row of the stands keeps each player from loafing even for a second.

“We can do this for 32 minutes if we wanted to,” Riggs barks at his team. “We can never let a team tire us out. We have to be able to run the whole game. We don’t have the size not to.”

Riggs found the weights “under a pecan tree” with other garbage getting ready to be disposed of. The coach saw an opportunity.

“That’s our weight room,” he said while sitting in the gym’s old wooden bleachers. “We have to do with what we have. We can’t look back and think what others have, we have to concentrate on ourselves.”

The team is used to making due with whatever is available. Practice uniforms consist of T-shirts and shorts of various styles and colors. No fancy warm-up suits adorn these players, and each has different style sneakers, unlike many in more affluent school districts.

Assistant coaches? Not hardly.

Riggs’ assistant is head girls coach John Holmes, and in return Riggs is Holmes’ assistant.