NEW MADRID -- Local fans will again be entertained by a top-drawer brand of basketball as the 11th annual Riverbend Classic Shoot-Out tips off this weekend at New Madrid County Central High School.
The "Rumble by the River" features a quality field of outstanding high school teams from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
"We're just blessed to have a kickoff-type event like this in our area," said tournament director and NMCC coach Lennies McFerren. "We've got a field this year that I feel is second to none."
Host NMCC is joined by state and national power Vashon High School of St. Louis, perennial area juggernaut Charleston and first-time participants Bell City and Jackson, as Missouri representatives. Arkansas teams are West Memphis and Pine Bluff, while Mississippi is represented by Byhalia, all state playoff-caliber squads.
The brainchild of retired New Madrid County school district superintendent Dr. Mike Barnes and former NMCC coach Gerald Murphy, the event has thrived throughout the years since its inception in 1994. "I think there is more interest in the tournament this year than any other," said McFerren. "Every coach that has been here has shown an interest in continuing to come back, so it must be a pretty doggone good time for coaches to showcase their players."
A popular tradition of the Riverbend Classic is to salute outstanding teams, players, coaches and officials.
This year's honorees are: the 1968 Class S state runner-up Howardville Hawks, Lilbourn's back-to-back state championship teams of 1974 and 1975, former Scott Central coach Ronnie Cookson, former Charleston coach Bobby Spencer, ex-Charleston star Jewell Crawford and longtime game official Al McFerren.
Howardville, coached by the late William C. Jackson, made history as the first all-black school to play for a state championship. The Hawks lost a four-
overtime game to all-white Bradleyville, still the longest state championship game ever played.
Players Willie Love, Nathaniel Thomas, Lewis Little, Millard Tate, Theodis Brooks, Reuben Marsh, Kenneth Ealy, Charles Edwards, Spencer Nesbitt, William Gray, Willie Roston and Charles Rowe, along with cheerleaders Regina Simmons, Mayola Foster, Teretha Franklin, Alice Fay Green, Regina Nickerson and Joyce Henderson, known for their innovative routines, will be honored.
The Lilbourn Panthers, coached by Larry Warren in '74 and Bob Phelps in '75, went 61-2 on their way to two Class 2A state championships.
Former Scott Central coach Cookson, legendary in the annals of Southeast Missouri basketball, led the Braves to 12 state titles while compiling a 636
-132 record -- .828 win percentage -- in a 25-year career.
Spencer, who replaced McFerren at the helm of the Charleston program, guided the Bluejays to a Class 3A state title in 1994, after serving as McFerren's assistant on seven other championship teams.
Crawford, the second leading all-time scorer at Southeast Missouri State University, starred for the Bluejays, leading them to the first state championship under McFerren in 1980. He has also played professionally overseas.
"He was a heckuva player," said McFerren. "If I could put my hands on players like that, we'd be talking about McDonald All-Americans. Jewell was probably the best player to play for me. He was a very good shooter and a great leaper."
Al McFerren has roamed area courts as an official for about 25 years.
Perhaps, the premier matchup will be a repeat of last year's classic between Vashon and West Memphis in the tourney's final game on Saturday. Vashon, the 2004-05 Class 4 runner-up, outlasted West Memphis 41-38 in a low-
scoring, yet entertaining contest. West Memphis features potential Division I prospect Jason Henry, a 6-7 senior.
"They'll be matched again, by popular demand," said Lennies McFerren.