BY MIKE URSERY
Classrooms and cafeterias will remain empty until mid-August, but high school basketball gyms around the state have been filled with student-athletes during the summer.
Higbee Lady Tigers head coach Tanner Burton said his team has played 30 practice games so far over the summer break.
Some of those summer games were played at the First Annual Higbee Shootout, held June 19-21 in Higbee.
This is the first time Higbee has hosted an event like the one held earlier this week.
Burton organized the Higbee Shootout, and said his intent was for it to be unique compared to other shootouts held around the state.
“What we’ve done is we’ve embraced the fact that we want to invite the community in, and surrounding communities that are going to participaing, and not charging them to come,” Burton said.
Burton said that some places charge an admission fee, something he didn’t want to do for this event.
Another thing seen at the Higbee Shootout that isn’t seen at a lot of other shootouts, the officials who attended were certified by MSHSAA.
Burton said he had been planning this event for a long time, but wasn’t able to dedicate much time to it because of his job situation. Now that he is employed by the district, he said, he has more freedom because teachers don’t work during the summer.
“We started documenting everything around February once the season ended,” Burton said. “I kept adding to it and making it what it is today.”
The shootout was attended by 19 small-town schools from the Class 1 and Class 2 level. The schools who attended were Paris, Slater, Cairo, Linn County, Russellville, Milan, Keytesville, Otterville, Meadville, Salisbury, Santa Fe, Community, Marion County, Madison, Southwest (Ludlow), Atlanta, Bunceton, Fayette and Higbee.
In all, 25 teams participated over the three day period, with 47 practice games played.
Burton said Higbee might try to expand their event to more schools next summer, which has already been scheduled for June 18-22.
Women’s college basketball coaches were invited to attend the First Annual Higbee Shootout. Coaches from universities around the state were in attendance to watch girls basketball teams run their respective scrimmages on June 19 and June 21, when girls scrimmages were scheduled.
“No one does that, to my knowledge,” Burton said. “When we’re doing something like that, it provides a service for no charge to give these kids exposure. I know with our situation, not all of these kids have money to go out and play AAU competitive basketball, so we give them an outlet where we can get them exposure, and their parents aren’t having to shell out hundreds of dollars to do that.”
Coaches in attendance came from Hannibal-LaGrange, State Fair Community College (Sedalia), John Woods Community College (Quincy Illinois), Missouri Baptist, Westminster College, Missouri Valley College, Lincoln University, Central Christian College, Columbia College and Central Methodist University.
“These schools come from a distance to see these ‘diamonds in the rough,’” Burton said. “I think a lot of coaches were pleased.”
Burton said he intends to have men’s college basketball coaches attend the Higbee Shootout next year.
Now, Burton is working on putting together a “coaches’ roundtable” consisting of area collegiate and high school coaches, where they can meet and share ideas on expanding involvement, he said.
That’s just my business mindset,” Burton said. “Never be satisfied with what you have. You can always do something to make it better.”
As far as practice goes, Burton said the main thing he wanted his Lady Tigers to work on was cohesion. Higbee lost three seniors to graduation after the 2016-2017 season. Two of those seniors, Rhiannon Runyon and Sabrina Huddleston, combined for over 3,000 points during their careers, and accounted for more than half of the points the team scored last season.
“A lot of people are going to sleep on us and think we’re down (next season),” Burton said.
He said that having his team play 30-plus games over the summer, practically an extra season, his players returning can learn to take on leadership roles, and evolve individually.
“When next season comes around, by the end of December, people are going to be like, ‘Oh, my. We didn’t expect this,’” Burton said. “That’s the tradition. That’s the structure. That’s the culture of this program we’re trying to build.”
Higbee Tigers head coach Jon Bishop said his players improved individually, as well as working on improving from a team aspect.
Bishop said a lot of his players work summer jobs, and he was proud of the committment they showed, making the time to show up to the event and practice.
The Fayette Falcons were another one of the teams who attended the Higbee Shootout.
Head coach Ben Pallardy said his team has gotten better as the summer has progressed.
Pallardy said that senior Blake Dawson had missed time over the summer with a knee injury, and that the time spent in Higbee was his first time back with the team.
“He is a difference maker, but not in the way you might think,” Pallardy said. “He’s a great scorer, that he has proven. But, the biggest impact he has had is his communication and leadership on the floor.”
Pallardy said another player who has played extremely well over the summer is junior Isaiah Estes, who is ready to take on a leadership role next season.
“We need to work on the consistency of our other players, and that will come with time on the court, as well as putting in the work when no one is watching,” Pallardy said.