Jeff Cali Sports Editor email@example.com
Latta — Things probably couldn’t have gone much better for the folks at Latta Tuesday night.
Close to, if not over, 2,000 fans packed into the brand new $5 million Latta Panthers Fieldhouse to watch the home town Panthers take on local rival Byng.
When Byng came to town in the now old Latta gym, many fans simply stayed home. There was no use trying to squeeze into that place. Sardines had more room.
Problem solved. The new Latta gym can comfortably hold 1,700 without anyone feeling cramped. Those that didn’t mind standing were lined up all around the back of the seats from one side to the other. And as many as would fit were watching from the windows in the lobby area looking down on the gym floor.
Nearly everyone I talked to agreed that it seemed like they were watching a playoff game. Two great battles on the court. Great fan support. Cool scoreboard song videos during time outs. Fun times in the Latta Panther Fieldhouse. Fantastic atmosphere.
“(Byng boys coach) Trent (Miller) and I were talking before the game, and it was like the regional or area finals. There was tremendous fan support from both groups. I love competing against Trent. His kids are so well-coached. It was fun, there was no doubt about it,” said Latta head coach Donnie Husband.
Latta girls coach David Tinkler agreed.
“It was great. That’s a typical playoff atmosphere,” he said. “We had bodies hanging off the walls and the rafters and everything else. I thought my kids handled it pretty well.”
It was also pink-out night. Lotsa pink in the stands. Raised thousands of dollars to go toward cancer research.
A number of Latta alums in the stands. Even former coach Alton Wood and some of his former players made an appearance.
And then there were the ladies and coach Bill Johnson that won the 1975 state championship. Those fine folks were recognized at halftime of the girls game.
Most of the Latta board members were present and even former board member and longtime Latta supporter Wayne McElhannon spoke for a bit.
There were girls and boys firsts:
• Latta junior Krisha Young made the first two-point basket and 3-point shot in the first girls varsity game in the new gym.
• Byng sophomore Kendall Fike sank the first free throw.
• Byng senior Reid Wall hit the first two-point shot in a boys varsity game.
• Byng senior Joe Nemecek sank the first free throw.
• Byng senior Jacob Birdshead swished the first 3-point shot in a boys game.
I tried to be the first person in the new gym’s hospitality room, but alas I wasn’t even close. Even former Tupelo girls basketball coach and current Latta junior high coach Missy Rogers beat me.
Latta Athletic Director Terry Painter, one of many who has had a high level of stress leading up to Tuesday night’s festivities, finally got a good night’s sleep.
No doubt a good time was had by all.
Latta’s next home game is Feb. 11 when another local rival, the Lady Tigers and Tigers of Roff visit.