The ring finger of some DeSoto County high school athletes is certainly glittering more than usual. The added jewelry comes from rings they have earned by their achievement as state champions.
The Center Hill boys’ basketball team became the latest to get their award as the MHSAA 5A state champions Monday night at a team and family function held inside Michael Hatcher and Associates on Center Hill Road.
Center Hill completed its first-ever state title run in March with a heart-throbbing 75-73 victory over county and city rival Olive Branch in the finals at Mississippi Coliseum.
Monday night over pizza, cake, cookies and refreshments, the Mustangs relived their moment in basketball history, watching a video replay of the final game victory.
Then, coach Newton Mealer came forward and made introductions ahead of presenting the rings to his players.
What many may not have known at the time was that the evening might not have happened, or it could have been a more costly affair to the players and families. The team almost didn’t have the money to cover the cost of the rings.
“Our goal was $10,530 for everybody here to get a championship ring,” Mealer said. “My goal as the head coach was to not make any of our players pay a single dollar. That’s a difficult thing to do and we had to have some people step up.”
Mealer went on to enumerate donations that had been received, including $1,000 from the City of Olive Branch and several hundred dollars from other contributors and fundraising efforts.
Tuesday evening, Mayor Scott Phillips added the city contributed $1,000 toward the Olive Branch girls' basketball ring effort, as well.
The full amount for Center Hill had not been reached, however, and Mealer put out social media pleas for more assistance, a figure that would total $6,500. That was when he got a text from a m, he did not know.
“I had somebody text me and ask, ‘How much do you need? You don’t know but I know you. How much money do we need for these boys to get state championship rings?’” Mealer said. “I put it down and the next day he came back and said, ‘I’d like to help.’”
The Center Hill coach went on to read further the followup text he got from the unknown benefactor.
“This is the text message that came in that night,” Mealer said. “‘Coach, I will put a check in the mail Monday morning for the $6,500. God really laid it on my heart to help these young men get the rings they earned. I would prefer to remain an anonymous donor as I didn’t do this for any recognition or praise. I am not wealthy but God has blessed me certainly far more than I deserve to be able to help in certain situations.’”
Mealer went on, “I hope these young men at Center Hill will enjoy their rings. As a man, I want to thank you for having such a positive impact on the kids. You may never grasp truly the impact that these kids have and the blessing they are to Center Hill High School.’”
The check did come and Mealer was happy to announce the full amount of the ring cost had been made and nothing is owed for their lasting reminder of the school’s first-ever state boys’ basketball title.
The players were also treated to hear from Shelbia Clark, the mother of NBA player Ian Clark. Clark’s father Jon was also on hand as Shelbia related how her son became an NBA champion as a member of the Golden State Warriors. Ian is currently with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Mealer coached Clark in high school when he led the program at Germantown, Tenn. High School.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.