Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
With the beating of drums on the sidelines and of the hot summer sun over head, the ancient Choctaw game of stickball continued its rich tradition Thursday night at Choctaw Central High School, as Koni Hatta defeated Unified, 8-0, in the opening game of the State Games ages 9-12 Stickball Tournament.
“This is what we have been practicing since May,” Koni Hatta head coach Eric Billy said. “I am very proud of these kids, whatever we practice they accomplish.”
Despite the young age of the athletes, the play resembled the adult version with bruises and body slams all around. Billy said one of the reasons for the advanced level of play is how early children are introduced to the game.
“Some kids begin right when they get out of the womb,” Billy said. “For some kids, it's when they are old enough to walk, and for others it is, when they are old enough to hold a stick.”
Nigel Jefferson led the way for Koni Hatta on the day, racking up five goals including a streak of four in a row in the second and third quarters.
“He contributes big,” Billy said of Jefferson. “He's one of our big players on the team. Some of our players did not have a good day, but he did very well.”
Drenched in sweat by the end of the game, Jefferson played nearly every minute of the contest, subbing out briefly in the first half before coming back strong in the second. Though he admitted the sun did pose as a challenge, Jefferson said it did not affect his play on the day.
“It was fun,” Jefferson said. “It was hard (to battle the heat), but it was not too hard.”
Koni Hatta also received goals from Lucas Thomas and Jacob McMillan and Chris Thomas on the day.
While it wont go down in the stat books, Braden Billy was a force in Koni Hatta's back end. Normally an offensive threat for the team, Billy frequently broke up Unified scoring opportunities, lofting the ball deep down the field and away from danger.
“He's one of our good shooter too, but we had to adjust,” Eric Billy said. “We decided to move him to defense in order to hold down the defense for us today.”
The tournament will continue throughout the week with the final game being held at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Choctaw Central.
“This is the game of the games,” Billy said. “It's like the Olympics or the NBA – it's our game.”