Hwy. 51 Revisited: McComb, Mississippi

By Jesse Brooks

McComb, Mississippi is the kind of town that seems to get by on day-to-day business. It doesn’t beat its chest to declare that it is better than somewhere else or decorate itself as something flashy. However, the best way to describe McComb is welcoming. You can walk into a public place or a locally owned business, and people smile and greet you. They ask you how you’re feeling and talk directly to you like they’ve known you for years.

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Though McComb may sound like a typical sleepy Southern town, history suggests that it wasn’t always that way. Like so many towns that reside on Highway 51, it exists because of the expansion of the Great Northern Railroad, known today as the Illinois Central Railroad. The city was founded in 1872 after Henry Simpson McComb decided to move the railroad’s maintenance shops to the area. Railroad employment caused a city to form and blossom.

Over the turn of the century, McComb at times went through periods of unrest. The Illinois Central Shopman’s Strike of 1911 brought violence to the city over a period that lasted nearly a year, and the strikes were eventually disbanded due to a lack of success. McComb suffered extreme violence against African-Americans throughout the 1960s, including 11 bombings after the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 the following summer and African-Americans in the South finally received protection at the polls.

However, in eras of great struggle often something beautiful is born. The railroad became a facilitator for the exchange of great ideas, and musicians and artists from McComb began to make their mark on the world.

A Mississippi blues trail on Highway 51 begins in McComb, and it starts in a big way with “The Originator” himself, Bo Diddley. Born in McComb in 1928 and named Ellas Bates, Diddley’s songwriting is considered a key element in the popular transition from blues to rock-&-roll. Diddley introduced a five-accent Afro-Cuban rhythm to blues and country music known today as the “Diddley Beat.” The beat is a cornerstone in modern rock, pop and hip-hop music. A blues trail marker in his honor is located at the city railroad station.

McComb is also the birthplace of New Orleans gut bucket bluesman Lil Freddie King. The guitarist, who still performs regularly in the Big Easy at age 77, is mentioned on an official state blues trail marker near the railroad station.

McComb’s railroad station also serves as its official railroad museum. Inside is a full explanation on the town’s founding and development, as well as documentation of railroad life. The museum is open on Monday through Saturday at 12-4 p.m., and admission is free.

For weary travelers looking for a feeling equal to coming to a grandmother’s house on a Sunday afternoon, The Dinner Bell is perhaps McComb’s biggest attraction. Since moving to its present location in 1959, the restaurant has held an esteemed reputation in producing all of the essentials in Southern cuisine. Remarkably, though the business has changed owners over the decades, everything seems virtually unchanged. Dining is set up family dinner style, and several dinner parties share a place at a revolving Lazy Susan table that features mainstays like fried chicken, green and lima beans, yams and banana pudding. The table’s choice of food already seems endless enough, but weekends offer even more options. The Dinner Bell is a lunch only institution that opens on 11 a.m. on Tuesday-Sunday and closes at 2 p.m. It’s best to arrive early and not procrastinate on the opportunity.

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HOME COOKIN’- The Dinner Bell in McComb, MS is more than a restaurant. It’s an institution. Photo by Jesse Brooks.  

 

McComb has other dining options available in downtown such as Topisaw General Store for lunch and The Caboose, a more upscale restaurant and steak house.

New businesses are coming to McComb’s downtown, and the streets can be pretty busy mid-day. Economists say that America is going through an “urban renaissance,” and McComb seems to be set on being a part of the movement as former city buildings like the Palace Theater are being renovated for the purpose of regular multi-use. For the first time, the Palace Theater was used as the venue of the McComb Blues Music and Arts Festival in 2016.

McComb doesn’t demand your attention but it appreciates it. It may not be loud, but it fights and it has fought forward through times of unrest and economic ups and downs. What McComb can teach the rest of small town America is how to hold on to your local identity. In McComb, there are some things that will never change, and that is what makes it strong.

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RAPPER LOOKS BACK ON GREENSBURG ROOTS

By Jesse Brooks

When most hip-hop artists look back on their humble beginnings, the story usually begins in a city neighborhood from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or New Orleans. However, for Jarius Burton, who goes by the stage name J. Quick, the origin begins in Greensburg.

“My family lived on Under the Hill Road near the truck stop,” Burton said. “I was into music a lot. My mom was in a band and my auntie sang a lot. Music was always in me.”

IMG_5124Burton’s mother Stacy played flute in the St. Helena High School marching Band, and placed an emphasis on music in the household. Burton also cites the gospel music his family was involved with at church as an early introduction to music.
Today in modern hip-hop, many rappers try to infuse various influences from outside of the genre. That has inspired many artists like Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino to search the sounds of their past, and often gospel and soul music comes up as the common links.

“I’ve got an old soul,” Burton said. “When I was around my mother and my aunties we’d have Marvin Gaye and Al Green playing. I was exposed to all kinds of music at a young age.”

While in grade school, Burton and family moved to Hammond. His mother’s partner at the time, Cedric Flowers, a father figure, introduced hip-hop to Burton for the first time.

“I feel like being from Greensburg, and now living in Hammond, has helped me in some ways,” Burton explained. “Sometimes rappers from the city never leave where they are from. Someone from New Orleans might always just sound like New Orleans. I listened to music from all over and that’s what I want to sound like.”

With the expansion of the digital age, social media has leveled the playing field for emerging musicians. Burton is a student of the industry, and has put these new tools into use to launch his career. Every studio producer or live show Burton books for projects has been found through use of social media. He has travelled as far as Atlanta to showcase his music and link up with his online business relationships.

Burton currently works at Blue Beacon Car Wash in Hammond, supporting himself as he tries to make professional rapping a reality. He currently allows social media users to acquire his music free while focusing on monetizing his music through live shows and merchandise sales.

“I see myself as [a] concept artist because I feel like I’m a storyteller,” Burton said. “I like the songs to focus around one concept of each album.”

Burton is currently working in the studio to record an album with the working title “It’s Never Too Late.” Previously, Burton released “The S.H.E. Project,” a work all about relationships and heartbreak.

Burton’s music is available for free playback at https://soundcloud.com/realquickmusic online.

OFA Boys’ season ends with exit from MAIS AAAA Div. I State Tournament

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SENIOR STAND- OFA senior point guard Janero Porter scored 10 points in a 50-46 MAIS AAAA Div. I State Tournament loss to Parklane Academy. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks 

The Oak Forest Academy boys basketball team’s season has come to an end after falling to Parklane Academy 50-46 on Saturday, February 24 in the MAIS AAAA Div. I State Tournament third place qualifying game.

The Yellow Jackets found themselves trailing for most of the first half, but hot shooting got them back into the game. Junior guard La’Vell Scott hit a 3-pointer before the first half ended to cut into the Parklane lead 28-24.

Scott, who led OFA with 16 points, and senior point guard Janero Porter (10 points total) opened up the second half offensively hitting back-to-back shots from beyond-the-arc while still trailing 33-30. While the Jacket defense had their hands full with Parklane, their shooting was still on point. Later in the third quarter, senior forward Chris Back a made consecutive 3-pt. shots to bring OFA within 39-36.

The perimeter shooting continued in the final quarter as Porter opened it with a 3-pointer, and freshman guard Jaden Collura sank one of his own to tie up the game 44-44 with 4:08 left in regulation. Parklane answered with an easy layup off of a defensive breakdown, but Scott scored a fast break layup of his own to tie the game back up at 46-46.

Though the Jackets looked poised to win the game with time and possession in their favor, Parklane forced two steals that eventually led to a 50-46 advantage for victory.

“We made things happen on a few possessions, and then the ball kind of started to stick and we didn’t move as well as we wanted to,” OFA Coach Curtis Matherne said. “I don’t want to make excuses for them, but they’ve played good caliber teams in back-to-backs and maybe tour legs finally got to us. But they played as hard as they possibly could.”

The State Tournament started on a positive note as the underdog Jackets defeated Jackson Prep 65-49 for Matherne’s 100th career coaching win. Four different players scored in double digits in victory: Scott (19 points), Collura (17 points), Backa (15 points) and Porter (13 points). In the second round, OFA was defeated by Madison-Ridgeland Academy in a heartbreaking 65-63 loss in overtime.

Despite losing out on the game that would have qualified OFA for a trip to the MAIS AAAA Overall Tournament, the program as a whole produced a 20-win season. Several players experienced individual growth as well. Scott learned how to fill the role of the team’s top scoring option. Collura made the most of his opportunities and proved himself as a bench sharp shooter. Backa solidified himself as an inside and outside threat. Porter also displayed himself as a high energy point guard in his final season coming back from a year plagued with injuries.

“I worked at Southeastern for four years on the D-I level and I saw unbelievable point guards and guys that went on to make money overseas,” Matherne said. “I can’t believe schools and colleges aren’t beating our door down about Janero Porter. His basketball IQ, handles and decision making are off the charts. He can shoot it too. I would advise colleges in this area to check him out.”

Porter and Scott were both selected to the 2018 MAIS AAAA Div. I All-Tournament Team in an announcement made after the championship game.

 

 

OFA shortstop Caleb Cleveland signs with Bossier Parish CC

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MOVING UP- Oak Forest Academy senior shortstop Caleb Cleveland signs his letter of intent to play for Bossier Parish Community College with his family and Coach Tony Salim present. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

Bossier Parish Community College now officially has a second Oak Forest Academy Yellow Jacket joining up with the program as senior shortstop Caleb Cleveland signed his letter of intent on Friday, February 23.

“I know the division Bossier is in is pretty competitive so I’m looking forward to it,” Cleveland said. “It’s near Shreveport which isn’t too far from home so I think that’s pretty good.”

Cleveland has attended OFA for four years and is a native of Amite.

“I played varsity ball all four years and we won district every year,” Cleveland said. “I never used to be a strong hitter when I was younger. I always liked the glove so I kind of showed that off. Hopefully I carry that over to college.”

Cleveland credits OFA Coach Tony Salim and his staff for improving his swing, and building a group of young batters every year capable of significant offensive outputs. He says personal improvement each year at OFA has been the key to earning honors like All-District and All-State in in sophomore and junior seasons.

“Caleb is an extremely hard work and can play anywhere on the field. Catcher, shortstop, you name it,” Salim said. “It was him very valuable to this program. I was just thinking…He’s played every position on the field for us at some point in these past four years and he’s really good at all of them.”

Salim also said that he sees Cleveland being able to carry his career past the two-year JUCO level through a combination of hard work and talent.

“The goal, of course is D-I,” Cleveland said. “I was to improve and improve the best I can.”

Cleveland also says as a team he thinks the current Jacket squad can reach State and win, and is looking forward to hard work, but also having fun with his teammates.

 

 

OFA baseball ends Sonic Classic in dramatic fashion

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EYE ON THE BALL- OFA Senior Mario Campo gets ready to take a swing. The Jackets scored over 40 runs in the Oak Forest Academy Sonic Classic on February 16-17. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Oak Forest Academy baseball opened up their season on February 16-17 by hosting the Sonic Classic, and the Yellow Jackets closed out the weekend with a dramatic win.

On Saturday, February 17, Centreville put together a rally to take a 12-11 lead in the top of seventh inning, erasing a previous 11-8 lead for OFA. In the bottom of the inning, Centreville walked two runners on base. Trevor Robinson hit a long ball that allowed Caleb Cleveland to come home and tie the game up at 12-12, leaving a runner on third.

Sensing a win, sophomore Carson Hoover came out swinging early in the count and hit a single that sent a runner home for the 13-12 win.

“We swung the bats well the whole weekend,” OFA Coach Tony Salim said. “We scored a lot of points. I think we scored close to 40 runs in four games.”

Against Centreville, the game was one of rallies. OFA faced an early 3-0 deficit in the top of the first, but it was as soon as the bottom of the inning they would take their first lead. Robinson got the Jackets on the board by hitting a long ball that would bring two runners home while he stayed on third. With the bases loaded, Robinson scored when the next batter was walked to take OFA’s first lead of the game with a score of 4-3. The Jackets increased their lead as much as 6-3 in the bottom of the first after freshman Cole Adams stole home.

The two teams were all even again going into the bottom of the fifth inning with an 8-8 score. Layne McLin went to base with runners on base and got a hit in the middle of the lineup to send Cleveland home for another scored run. McLine was next sent home by Robinson who again pulled off a big hit. Hoover’s hit would send Robinson home as OFA took an 11-8 lead mid-game.
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OFA senior pitcher Caleb Manduni. Photo by Matthew Roy.

“Offense was obviously one of our strong suits over the weekend,” Salim said.
“We have a couple of guys that are out right but but once our pitching staff is at full strength I think we’re going to be really good and we have some high expectations this year.”

OFA went 2-2 over the weekend, beating Silliman Institute on Friday, February 16 with a final score of 13-9 and dropping a game against Central Private and another to Silliman.

OFA will enter the St. Stanislaus Tournament on Saturday, February 24 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and will host Copiah Academy on March 2.

OFA baseball senior Layne McLin signs with Bossier Parish CC

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MOVING ON- Oak Forest Academy senior Layne McLin signs his letter of intent to play for Bossier Parish Community College on Saturday, February 17 with his family and Coach Tony Salim and staff present. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

After two strong seasons with Oak Forest Academy baseball, senior Layne Mclin, who plays the infield positions and at pitcher, will play for Bossier Parish Community next season after officially signing a letter of intent on Saturday, February 17.

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“I had one more solid strong offer, but the reason why I chose Bossier was so I could go with one of my best friends, short-stop Caleb Cleveland,” McLin said.

Cleveland is also a senior at OFA, and is expected to play a big role for the Yellow Jackets this season.

“It was just an offer that I could not pass up,” McLin said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with new baseball players and rooming with my friend. As far as the future, I just want to keep moving up in baseball and go until I can’t go anymore.”

OFA Head Coach Tony Salim praised his ability as a hitter, saying that the power McLin provides in the middle of the line up is “something you really can’t coach.”

“One night we scored eight runs and tonight we scored 13,” Salim said. “We scored a lot of runs this weekend and a large part of that was having him in the middle of that order.”

McLin has been an exceptional player throughout his career. Last season he was an All-District selection in MAIS AAAA Div. I, and he received All-District 9-2A honors and All-State Honorable Mention at his previous school, Doyle High in Livingston.

McLin will join a Bossier Parish squad that went 21-29 last season under Head Coach Bobby Gilliam. The program was home to 30 players that went on to play for professional organizations. Bossier Parish is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

“I fee like if I hadn’t played ball at Oak Forest I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in today,” McLin said. “Coach Tony prepares us well if we’re able to take the next step. Anything you need help with, you name it, and he’ll take the time to help you figure it out.”

Salim said that several of his layers are currently being recruited while three of them have already made verbal commitments to college programs. He also said he expects the OFA senior class to have six or seven players to sign letters by the end of the season.

List of local boys basketball playoff games

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MAIS AAAA Div. 1 State Tournament Round 1

2/20 – Oak Forest Academy vs. Jackson Prep at Presbyterian Christian (Hattiesburg, MS)

LHSAA 1A

2/23 – No. 18 Kentwood @ No. 15 South Cameron: time TBA

2A

2/23 – No. 21 Franklin @ No. 13 Amite: time TBA

2/23 – No. 19 MLK Charter @ No. 14 Independence: 6 p.m.

2/23 – No. 20 St. Helena @ No. 13 East Feliciana: time TBA

2/23 – No. 18 Delhi Charter @ No. 15 Doyle: 6 p.m.

5A

2/23 – No. 32 Ponchatoula @ No. 1 Natchitoches Central: time TBA

2/23 – No. 17 Covington @ No. 16 Denham Springs: time TBA

2/23 – No. 29 Sulphur @ No. 4 Walker: time TBA

Div. I

2/20-27 St. Paul’s on two round BYE

Div. III

2/27 – No. 10 The Church Academy @ No. 7 St. Thomas Aquinas: time TBA

OFA Boys end regular season with win over PCA

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GETTING BUCKETS- OFA senior forward Chris Backa scored 14 points against Pontchatrain Christian. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks 

AMITE- The Oak Forest Academy boys basketball team defeated Pontchatrain Christian Academy 74-25 to close out the regular season with a 19-8 overall record. Junior shooting guard La’Vell Scott led all scorers with 17 points.

PCA opened the first quarter with a 7-2 run, but things flipped quickly after the Yellow Jackets went into a full court press to score off of three straight steals and gain a 8-7 advance in less than a minute.

“We saw a weakness and we went after it and went into our 2-1-2 full court press for about 8-10 minutes,” OFA Coach Curtis Matherne said. “We built a comfortable lead and then we were able to work on some things we would like to do against Jackson Prep in the playoffs.”

OFA ended the first quarter on an 18-2 run, mostly a result from getting points off of turnovers with senior point guard Janero Porter, who totaled 10 points, directing traffic. Braxten McGovern (10 points total) and senior forward Chris Backa were scored most of the layups in the final minutes of the first quarter to result in a 20-9 score.

Both teams appeared to come out cold in the second period, but OFA found a spark when Backa’s second block of the evening turned into a fast break layup for Porter on the other end over two defenders. The Jackets closed out the first half on a 12-3 run that included two 3-pointers by Backa inside of the final minute. Backa was the team’s second leading scorer with 14points.

“Chris was giving us his his all, but I don’t think we had him in the right position to succeed,” Matherne said. “We moved him outside where’s more comfortable handling the ball, shooting and making things happen off of the bounce. Since that happened, he’s been a completely different player.”

The Jackets set the tone in the second half with senior Carter Blanchard scoring on a fast break layup coming right out of the gate. Later in the game, Scott hit two 3-pointers, and Jon Jovi hit one from beyond the arc to command a 58-22 lead in the fourth quarter.

“La’Vell had to miss eight games for personal reasons, but we’re bringing him off the bench now and he’s playing and practicing hard,” Matherne said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. Not only does he make us better overall, he’s given us a spark off the bench that we’ve been missing.”

The MAIS AAAA Div. 1 State Tournament playoff system will begin next week on Tuesday, February 20 at Presbyterian Christian, and the Jackets are scheduled to face Jackson Prep in the first round.

“We want to thank the home crowd,” Matherne said. “We’ve had unbelievable home crowds this and it has to be fun for the guys to play in front of them. We thank you for the support. We’re going to go up to Hattiesburg next week and hopefully make Oak Forest even more proud of these guys.”

 

OFA Boys bounce back from losses with two straight wins

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RISING UP- OFA Senior forward Chris Backa scored 15 points in a 47-31 win over Presbyterian Christian on Tuesday, January 30. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Despite experiencing back-to-back losses to Jackson Prep and Columbia Academy last weekend, the Oak Forest Academy boys basketball team started this week off with two consecutive wins. With an overall record of 16-7, the Yellow Jackets have their sights set on building momentum for a postseason run.

“We have had to change a good bit within our system offensively and also defensively the last 6 games, but the guys are still playing hard,” said OFA Coach Curtis Matherne. “Our approach at the end is to be the most prepared, the hardest working, and play with the most togetherness. We preach the small things all year, now is to time to make sure every slightest detail is performed and not forgotten.”

Matherne admits that the Jackets’ win ratio is not as consistent as earlier in the season, but says that his players are working extremely hard against tough competition as they are near the end of the MAIS AAAA Div. 1 schedule. He praised their ball movement and the fact that some players are contributing more now that their confidence is up.

One such player that seems to have been awarded the green light is freshman guard Jaden Collura who has seen an increased role off the bench this January. On Tuesday, January 23, Collura scored a season high 22 points in a 57-47 road victory over Parklane Academy in McComb, Mississippi. Senior guard Janero Porter also contributed 16 points in the Parklane win.

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THE NEW SURGE- Freshman guard Jaden Collura have given OFA a major lift in outside shooting. He scored 22 point in a 57-47 win over Parklane Academy on January 23. Photo by Matthew Roy.

Collura also led the Jackets with 17 points in their 56-33 win over Bowling Green on Monday, January 29. Collura, Carter Blanchard and Jon Jovi all knocked down 3-pointers to build a commanding 28-12 lead with about five minutes remaining in the first half against Bowling Green. OFA led by 36-14 after senior forward Chris Backa hit a shot from beyond the arc with 30 seconds before the intermission. Backa also looked strong on the boards and scoring in the lane as he totaled 11 points. Porter also contributed 11 points in the win.

“We will continue to look to find places in games to pressure and play fast paced, but also slow it down and grind it out when needed,” Matherne said.

OFA brought that mindset into a conference game with Presbyterian Christian at home on Tuesday, January 30, and the Jackets pulled off a 47-31 victory. Porter led the Jackets with 16 points, and Backa was second in command with 15 points.

OFA will hit the road on Friday to take on Madison-Ridgeland Academy for their last conference game in Madison, Mississippi. Tipoff will take place around 7 p.m.

Local high school basketball round up

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OVER THE TOP- Independence senior swingman Melvin Baker’s consistent play has helped the Tigers take a lead in District 9-2A. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Here late in January we are nearing the end of high school basketball season. This year, we have seen an exceptional year from both girls and boys programs and it should be an interesting race down the stretch when the district champions are crowned.

Let’s take a look at the some of the best storylines this season as we near the finish line before the postseason begins.

Ponchatoula 

Girls- The 25-3 Lady Wave currently hold the hottest win-streak in Tangipahoa Parish right now at 10-0. They lead District 6-5A with a 7-0 record and recently displayed an impressive 63-23 performance over district opponent Northshore last week. On Tuesday, January 23, the Lady Wave will face hosting rival Hammond.

Hammond

Girls– The Lady Tors currently hold a 12-9 overall record and are second place in District 6-5A with a 4-2 record. They turned heads recently with a 82-49 win over Covington. Getting a win over rial Ponchatoula on Tuesday would be a big statement for the program.

Independence

DSC_1985Boys- At 12-2, the Tigers are easily the best boys program in Tangipahoa Parish and may even feature the best player in the parish, versatile forward Melvin Baker. The Tigers just missed winning the parish tournament with a 44-35 loss to Amite, but have improved since then to capture the District 9-2A lead with a 3-0 record. Baker had a 23 point total in a 59-58 victory over Varnado last week.

St. Thomas Aquinas 

Girls- The Lady Falcons lead District 10-2A with a 3-0 record and hold a solid 16-8 record overall. They earned wins over Doyle and Springfield last week, and freshman Jade Brumfield has been a top scoring option for them this season.

Boys- The Falcons are consistent with a 12-8 overall record, and they are currently in second place after Doyle in the District 10-2A standings at 2-1. Justin Tomas and crew had a big 55-32 win over Springfield on Friday, January 19, but are now looking to bounce back from a 50-45 loss to Doyle last night.

Loranger

Girls- The squad led by Jamaya Mingo-Young is closing up another high flying season as they are currently cruising through District 7-3A with a 5-0 record. They recently beat district rival Albany 52-43.

Albany

Girls- The Lady Hornets are expect to finish second in district, but have turned in an impressive 19-5 overall record so far. Despite being overshadowed by rival Loranger, this is a team that can make a lot of noise after entering the postseason.

Oak Forest Academy

Girls– The Lady Jackets are a steady 12-6 overall in MAIS competition with Caylon Brabham as their offensive and defensive anchor down-low. Their recent wins this month include Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Presbyterian Christian and Parklane Academy. They face Parklane again on Tuesday.

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Boys- The Jackets started the season hot, but have struggled some conference play in MAIS AAAA Div. 1. They hold a 14-4 overall record and still look good for the postseason with a 3-3 conference record. The team will look to rally behind senior point guard Janero Porter to close out the regular season. They take on Parklane Academy on Tuesday, January 23.

 

Amite

Girls- The Lady Warrior winning tradition still rings true as they lead District 9-2A with a 4-0 record. The Girls are 13-6 overall and hold an 8-0 win-streak currently. This month they captured a 77-51 victory over rival Independence and a 72-21 win over district opponent Pine.

Boys- The Warriors have shown a lot of promise this season but can’t seem to get over the .500 hump, and are currently with a 10-10 overall record. They are 3-1 in district with their only loss being to Independence. After defeating Pine 59-29 last Friday, the Warriors look to build momentum on the road this Wednesday, January 24 against Northlake Christian.