MAMMOTH SPRING -- Altercations on and off the court in the semifinal round of the 2A-East District Tournament at Biggers-Reyno Feb. 15 led to the unprecedented move of changing the tournament finals to another site -- the Williford High School gymnasium.
Mammoth Spring School Superintendent Ron Taylor requested the move to ensure the safety of the Mammoth Spring Bears basketball team and fans.
"This was a very unfortunate incident, one I have never encountered in my 34 years in education," Taylor said. "Several parents came to me and were concerned about going back for the finals in such a hostile environment. I thought, 'This is a game; it's supposed to be played, and the players are supposed to have fun.'"
Taylor formally requested the site change in a letter to Don Brodell, associate executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association, which governs interscholastic competition in the state's public schools.
During the semifinals game between the Bears and the host Biggers-Reyno (Clay County) Buffaloes, junior Brett Morrow was ejected from the game for a flagrant foul. It was the Buffaloes' second technical.
Bears head coach Bob Maguffee said the incident occurred after one of his players grabbed a rebound with 2 and 1/2 minutes left in the game.
"That Morrow kid just came up and punched him in the stomach and took him to the floor," Maguffee said. "He had punched one of our kids up at Mammoth (in a regular season matchup earlier). We knew this kid was a hothead."
Morrow refused to leave the gym, according to Maguffee, until the referee ordered him to do so, at which point he kicked the ball box and stormed into the locker room.
But it was what happened after the game that shook up Mammoth Spring spectators.
Taylor said Biggers-Reyno high school principal Ralph Morrow, father of the ejected player, and the elder Morrow's brother chased the game officials into the locker room where a shouting match ensued. "Law enforcement officials had to break it up," Taylor said.
The other Morrow involved in the incident was Jerry Morrow, a retired school superintendent, according to Clay County Sheriff Brent Earley.
The sheriff acknowledged the confrontation had taken place but said the deputy on the scene had filed no report on the incident.
Superintendent Taylor said Ralph Morrow did not apologize, but he later called to explain his behavior.
"According to his interpretation, he was trying to be a peacemaker," Taylor said. "He said he was trying to head off those who were in pursuit of the referees. There was so much confusion I didn't try to assess who was doing what. It was unnerving for our fans and our kids."
Morrow refused to comment to reporters, referring questions to Greg Crabtree, superintendent of the Hillcrest School District in Strawberry and vice president of the conference.
Crabtree said the finals were moved to Williford because it was a more convenient location for both schools in the championship games. Mammoth Spring faced Hillcrest in both the girls' and boys' finals Feb. 18.
Crabtree also refused to comment on the confrontation at Biggers-Reyno, repeating that Williford was a more convenient location for the game. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it," he said.
Brodell said the decision to change the site of the tournament finals was made by the conference, not the AAA, and it was not subject to AAA approval. He said the association does not plan any disciplinary action against Morrow or Biggers-Reyno.
"I don't think there was enough there to go in and discipline anyone," Brodell said.
The final score of the game was 73-57, enough of a margin to preclude the possibility that a few bad calls might have changed the outcome, and Mammoth Spring had led by as many as 24 points, coach Maguffee said.
The coach, trying to explain the frustration that might have led to the incident, said the Buffaloes had beaten Mammoth Spring in both regular season meetings, but in this game the Bears jumped out to an early lead they would not relinquish.
Maguffee said Biggers-Reyno players "took a lot of cheap shots" during the game but the Bears kept their focus, which he credited for the win. "I was really proud of my kids. They kept their cool and walked away (from each provocation)."
The coach said things started to get out of hand in the second quarter. "One of the Biggers-Reno players flipped one of our players over his shoulder and injured him. He was hurt and sought medical attention. It was a dirty play," he said.
In the third quarter the Bears extended their lead. "They played the best ball they had played all year," Maguffee said. The Bears were up 55-38 at the end of the third quarter.
With 4 minutes left in the game a Biggers-Reno player was whistled for the first technical foul for shoving a Bears player into the wall, Maguffee said, "and things went downhill from there."
Mammoth Spring High School Principal Brian Davis said, "I'm proud of our players and fans. I'm proud of our community and students and the way they conducted themselves."
Coach Maguffee said, "I am extra proud of our players for the way they conducted themselves and the restraint and maturity they showed."
The Bears went on to lose the District finals against Hillcrest 71-68 in overtime Feb. 18, but they advanced to the Regional playoffs this week at Swifton.
The Lady Bears, undefeated in conference play this year, won their game handily.
Terry Mullins and Jan Sisk Lawrence contributed to this story.