Wing City: Hammond, Louisiana’s Top 10 Best Wings

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By Jesse Brooks

While the world was sleeping, the city of Hammond, Louisiana quietly has become a kingdom for wings. No meetings were held, and a formal declaration may not have even been made, but Hammond has become a center for the best locally made wings in the last 15 or so years.

So let’s take a look at the trailblazers putting this college town on the map with America’s favorite bar food. There are the top 10 best wings in Hammond.

10. China Wok – 1320 N Morrison Blvd, Hammond, LA 70401

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For years now, China Wok has been serving up some of the best value meals to Southeastern students living on a budget. For about $7-8 you can get a fried wings and pork fried rice box. The wings are plain but they’re lightly fried and crispy, and the friend rice makes the perfect compliment. Mix it up with any combination of soy, duck or sriracha sauce and you’ll eat like a king.

9. Big Al’s Burgers – 14605 W University Ave, Hammond, LA 70401

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Big Al’s has been a recent welcomed addition to the Hammond food scene. It features a simple menu of burgers, po boys and wings. The wings here about medium sized and not over fried. They offer familiar flavors like BBQ, lemon pepper and buffalo.

8. Salty Joe’s BBQ – 43344 South Range Rd. Hammond, Louisiana

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Hammond doesn’t have a long tradition of barbeque, but Salty Joe’s is giving it a go, and doing a pretty good job at it. The wings here are smoked, making them the only ones on our list that aren’t fried. They come in original and spicy, and their smoked method makes the wings tender with meat falling off the bone.

7. Bone-A-Fide Wings & Things – 46289 N Morrison Blvd, Hammond, LA 70401

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In recent years, Bone-A-Fide has made their presence known. They have continued to add to the menu and have many favorites that leave customers coming back for more. The recommended flavor here is lemon pepper, and be sure to grab a side of mac-and-cheese with every meal.

6. Super King Seafood – 411 West Thomas St. Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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Super King is super dope when it comes to big order boiled seafood like crawfish and crabs, but did you know they have some of the best wings in town? Super King’s hot wings are not to be confused with buffalo wings. They’re fried in an Asian style batter full of spice. Make sure grab a cold beverage with a wing and fried rice box.

5. Mariner’s Inn – 117 W Thomas St Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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Mariner’s is a Hammond staple and classic in everything they do. They are one of the city few late night spots, closing at midnight, making them a favorite with college students, service industry workers and the bar crowd. So naturally wings are a fit. Mariner’s offers one of the purest traditional buffalo wings found in Hammond.

4. Coop DeVille – 1750 W Thomas St, Ste I Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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Coop DeVille is ground zero for Hammond’s wing wave. Before them, there were not any wing specific restaurants and they set the standard with a vast menu of different flavors. Bacon and Cheddar wings are probably the most unique ones here.

3. City Empire – 1304 W. Thomas Street Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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City Empire is the newest establishments on the scene and they’ve already shown great promise. The price is great as they offer a four piece wings and friends deal for $5.00. They also close at midnight, and 3 a.m. on the weekends, making them one of the most reliable late night spots in the city. Their wings are plump, flavorful and made to order.

2. Tommy’s on Thomas – 216 W Thomas St, Hammond, LA 70401
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Known for pizza, Tommy’s has the absolute best buffalo wings in the city hands down. They’re breaded, one of the few on our list, but the batter isn’t thick. Tommy’s wings are jumbo in size and pair well with the house made ranch dressing and a cold brew. They also have a Voodoo BBQ flavor that is pretty good as well.

1. Chef’s Wings – 408 SW Railroad Ave, Hammond, LA 70403

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We are crowning Chef’s Wings as the best of Hammond because they score points across the board in wing criteria. Their wings are medium in size, never over fried and there’s a decent variety of flavors. The two best flavors here are lemon pepper and sweet red chili. Those looking for heat in their buffalo will find it here so choose your temperature carefully.

 

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Former Independence ball player competes for spot to open for Migos in new rap career

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One shot- Quentin Burkhalter (a.k.a. Quentin the 5th) performs an audition to open for Migos, Lil Baby, Blac Youngsta and Tammy Rivera at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana on June 29. 

By Jesse Brooks

Tangipahoa Parish produces s many standout athletes that it’s not a mystery why so many have dreams of going pro. However, “going pro” means something totally different to Quentin Burkhalter, who goes by the stage name Quentin the 5th. On June 12, Quentin put his rhyming skills to the test by auditioning for a chance to open for Atlanta hip-hop recording artists and national sensation Migos at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana on June 29. Also performing on that date are touring partners Lil Baby, Blac Youngsta and Tammy Rivera.

The move is an ambitious one for the young artist embarking on a post-college career. Rapping was once a hidden talent for Quentin, but now he is putting his self out there by taking chances.

Quentin called Amite his hometown, but he attended Independence High Magnet School where he was a basketball player for the Tigers.

“I played football, basketball and a little track. Basketball was my favorite,” Quentin said. “I probably could’ve done more but I stopped focusing on sports whenever I discovered that I was a good rhymer. Kept it a secret until it kinda leaked out but now it’s coming out the bag, so to speak.”

Quentin attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette after high school and it was there he started to focus on his craft.

“Music has aways been around me,” Quentin said. “I’ve been around for 4-5 years. Just relaxing and crafting. I listen to anything I get my hands on and have a lot of influences.”

Quentin says that he was also exposed to music from a young age as his mother was a dance instructor and he spent a lot of time around his school’s marching band. Now, he’s focused on putting it all together.

As far as other rappers he looks up to, Quentin has named Curren$y, J. Cole and Big Krit to be some of his favorites. Quentin’s style is very chill and concise. He has a social conscious and has a knack for strong storytelling. Shortly after creating a Soundcloud profile Quentin earned several thousand plays on line for a track called “Backwoods”.

The early online success caught the eyes and ears of Shaq Cosse, a writer for The Source Magazine. Cosse praised Quentin for being unique and creative and says he believes that he has Kendrick Lamar levels of potential.

If all goes well following the audition, it could lead to the next big step in Quentin’s road of progression. For the contest, Quentin performed an original track called “Stevie Wonderful”, an old school inspired track.

If you’d like to vote for Quentin’s audition advancement, please visit https://form.jotform.com/81628388034159 and vote for #22.

REVIEW: Punjabi Dhana serves Hammond, Louisiana its first taste of Indian Cuisine

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HOT LIKE CURRY- Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine is the first culinary venture of its kind in Hammond, Louisiana. Photo by Jeremy Rhodes.

By Jeremy Rhodes

Scientists say that our sense of smell holds the strongest potential of memory. I claim this to be self evident being that I wish to relive the memory of walking into Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine for the first time. Hearing the appeasing songs of Indian pop music and smelling the aroma of some of the finest Indian food I have ever had brought me to a scerine place in my mind. In my ignorance I could never imagine such a culinary blessing to grace Hammond America, but fear not readers, Indian Food is closer to home than you could imagine. At first glance, Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine only looks like a gas station because it is, the Best Stop 34 to be exact. Look beyond the humble interior because behind the doors lies a treat for the senses.

I was in a jovial state of mind by all the options that were presented before me. Not only was the menu concise and informative, it also gave the option of mild, medium or spicy for all the dishes. For the sake of retelling my experience to others, I decided to order the scipy version of the Butter Chicken. I chose this dish because I feel that the Butter Chicken is a good starting point for any newcomers who may never have had Indian cuisine before and I wanted to face the trust behind the infamous overbearing spiciness that is notorious with Indian Cuisine.

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Photo by Jeremy Rhodes.

In response, I say with all honesty that the Butter Chicken was an absolute delight. This dish alone could convert anyone sits on the fence of suspicion. There was a euphoric wave of joy in every spoonful I had. The cream in the dish cut the spiciness without leaving any flavor out. The dish is served with traditional brass bowls and Indian rice. With the Indian music playing behind me and the dishes steaming before me I could close my eyes and be at complete peace in the world.

I was joined by friends on this culinary conquest, to which they ordered the Chicken Vindaloo and the Palak Kofta. The Chicken Vindaloo had a savory spice found in the garlic tomato sauce. The hidden gem about this dish are the potatoes that compliment the sauce by absorbing vast amounts of flavor. Though this dish had quite a spicy kick, it is the flavor that brings out the love and tradition that cooked with it. The Palak Kofta is a vegetarian dish with a thick, hearty spinach sauce. I truly love this dish for the mixed vegetable balls that come with it shows the powerful taste possibilities vegetables can have.

I will be frank when I say that the location of this restaurant is not the best place to hold such majestic food but I sit back and think how perfectly quaint it is for Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine to be found in a gas station. It is as if this restaurant challenges the adventurous eater to find them and in result find culinary bliss.

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Photo by Jeremy Rhodes.

While talking with customers around me I found that many of them were returning customers. It is as if these partitions discovered a goldmine and have fallen madly in love with what is offered. One customer, Wade Bridges, was eating here to celebrate his birthday. Bridges was very passionate about his love of Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine and recalls his first time trying their food by saying, “I was super trebadacious about Indian food and I didn’t know anything about it going in. I found that it is absolutely an experience. We are from the South we know spice we can handle that, this is a completely different kind. This is flavor this is not just straight heat.” When asked about how he would sell the idea of Indian food to a person who has never had it he said, “Honestly, I am just going to continue to rave about it. How good it is and how filling it is.”

My overall thoughts on this restaurant is that this is an eatery I want to see flourish. The herbs and spices experienced here awakened tastebuds I did not know I even had. I think the consensus from fans of Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine is that this place has great food. I agree with this, however, not only is this a great restaurant I also believe this is an important restaurant. Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine brings a hidden gem of culture to Hammond. The south’s comfort food is about bringing three things to the table; food, smiles and community. I saw with my own eyes complete strangers talking to each other while enjoying this food. It is as if the flavors melted our guard we tend to build around ourselves. Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine is a place to be adventurous, satisfied and happy.

Oak Forest guard Janero Porter receives first college offer

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TRUST THE PROCESS- Oak Forest Academy point guard Janero Porter has received his first college offer from Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

AMITE- Patience paid off for Janero Porter, a recent graduate of Oak Forest Academy, as he has finally received his first athletic scholarship to play basketball. The full ride opportunity comes from from Tabor College, a NAIA school from Hillsboro, Kansas.

Porter spent most of last season with a knee injury that held him to a minutes restriction when he did play. This season, he bounced back to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 20-10 overall record and a trip to the semifinal round of the MAIS AAAA Div. 1 State Tournament as the squad’s starting point guard.

Porter played as a facilitating point guard averaging 15.4 points, 8.7 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 steals per game for his senior season.

Tabor College is a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference of the NAIA and finished with an overall record of 14-15 this season under head coach Micah Ratzlaff, who is in his 11th season with the Blue Jays.

Porter still has yet to determine is college landing spot. The siging period for NCAA Div. I basketball has closed, but he has until August 1 to sign a letter of intent for a school from Div. II, NAIA or junior college.

Porter is the second player from Oak Forest, under head coach Curtis Matherne, to receive a NAIA offer this season. Forward Chris Backa signed a letter of intent to play for LSU-Alexandria last month.

MUSIC REVIEW: Hammond Rapper J. Quick shows a harder edge with “Can’t Lose Faith”

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REFLECTIONS- Hammond rapper J. Quick (a.k.a. Jarius Burton) attempts to small town dreams into big city realities. Photo submitted.

By Jesse Brooks

For anyone young in America right now, figuring out how to manage day-to-day living while facing an ever growing income inequality gap is a harsh reality. This especially rings true for young African-Americans trying to accomplish that and more.

The awareness of this reality is something being explored by rapper J.Quick (a.k.a Jarius Burton) from Hammond, Louisiana. Quick has been building a career in hip-hop ever since he was a teenager, and at age 22, he somewhat has the feeling of a veteran on the scene.

Though Quick himself may feel like he has been on the grind for years, his reality is that he and his career are young. As he has completed projects as a recording artist, his sound and narratives have been in a constant flux.

His latest release, an E.P. entitled “Can’t Lose Faith”, is a departure from his past themes that dealt with relationships and heartbreak through Drake style hip-hop ballads. The current release is darker and more reflective, signs of a young artist diving headfirst into manhood.

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NOW PLAYING- Stream J. Quick’s “Can’t Lose Faith EP” right now for free on Sound Cloud.

Being a musician from Hammond, roughly 55 minutes north of New Orleans on I-55, can be tough due to a lack of media availability. It is a college town, but its markets are in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which leaves the Tangipahoa Parish hub lost in the mix sometimes. Musicians from Hammond often have to compete twice as hard for gigs, sales or anything else with artists from more established urban bases.

Even for a small town, Hammond has its dangerous neighborhoods and immediately from the opening track, Quick paints an upbringing involving experiences of violence and drug dealing he witnessed. This is the first time Quick has ever brought his audience into his past, and by doing so he makes his case for an exit from that life.

Can’t Lose Faith was produced and mixed by Teveyon Bickham and sounds like an assortment of several styles of hip-hop from over the years. In the opening track and the fourth “Lost So Many” there are a lot of subtle nods to 90s style hip-hop, but it’s a hodgepodge of Death Row, Bad Boy and Cash Money. The sound reflects the pair of Hammond artists well since it tends to be the kind of town that absorbs everything. The harder sound fits the more mature viewpoints Quick is working through.

Perhaps the most striking track of the EP is the final one entitled “You Had to Be There.” In it, Quick envisions his neighborhood as a war zone with violence the audience would not be able to imagine. He describes an environment so riddled with violence that it can be hard to mentally rise above. If anyone closes their eyes, this could be in any town in America. The narrator endures scenes of violence and fears calling police in fear that the violence will be subjected to them.

Can’t Lose Faith is a sign of growth for Quick lyrically, showing that he wants to be an artist with a message. Quick seems to embrace growth as his social media presence is in a constant state of rebranding. He periodically shares images of himself in between promoting projects, and he also eventually removes all of his old work from the public. This is an artist experimenting and figuring out who they will become.

If Quick can expand out of the Hammond area, starting with this release, audience’s won’t lose faith with him.

Stream Quick’s work here:
YouTube
SoundCloud
Spotify
iTunes

Jay Artigues Sportsplex adds new services just in time for summer

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GROWING- The Jay Artigues Sportsplex has announced new training services and a full summer program that includes camps for kids. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

HAMMOND- The Jay Artigues Sportsplex, a multi-sport training facility located on Highway 51 northbound, has announced the availability of new services and full program of summer activities.

The Sportsplex, founded by current Southeastern athletic director Jay Artigues and former Oak Forest Academy baseball coach Tony Salim, was opened three years ago and started mostly as an indoor training facility for baseball, the only one of its kind in Tangipahoa Parish. Since Sportsplex’s opening year, the facility now offers training services for softball, cheerleading, tumbling and football in addition to baseball. Starting on June 4, they will offer strength and speed training as well.

“We have camps going on for everything from baseball to soccer to cheerleading, we just had a football camp so we really have it open to all sports,” said Salim, who now serves as manager and oversees the daily operations fulltime. “When we opened this place, Jay Artigues and I talked about this being one of our dreams for the area for several years, and at one point we finally said let’s go for it. We’ve grown a little bit every year. A lot of people think that it’s a baseball facility, which it is, but it offers much more than just baseball. We offer a lot of things for your kids to do.”

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BEAT THE HEAT- Now open at the Sportsplex, King Cone Ice Cream and Snowballs is serving up refreshments. Photo by Jesse Brooks

Salim also said that the stakes of high school sports have become a lot more competitive in recent years, and facilities like the Sportsplex that offer the latest equipment and services from trained professionals helps young athletes in the area gain an edge. By offering a competitive arena, the Sportsplex, which offers 10,000 square feet of indoor turf, promotes healthy lifestyles through competition for local area youth. As the facility grows and continues to include more sports, it gives opportunities to more kids to be occupied in athletic training.

The Sportsplex truly is the only facility in the area where youth and high school athletes have access to resources are of college and professional level quality. Currently, the facility has hosted several local high school cheer squads that have rented the indoor turf for practices.

“I think it makes the local youth better,” Salim said. “Not only is it a pure training facility as far as whenever you need one-on-one instruction when you’re trying to get better, but we’re also available for local area teams when it rains, which prevents them from missing a practice. Several years back, many of us never had access to something like that.”

One of the newest additions of equipment is the hit track system. Salim says this technology is used by Division I programs, and it tracks how far a batter’s swings go and it measures the exit velocity of each hit. The system also records the batter’s swings on video to watch and critique later.

Salim feels that the more competitive high school sports become, the more important it is for athletes to participate in travel ball. The Hammond Yankees are a youth travel team that was established by Artigues and Salim in 2011 and their home is the Sportsplex.

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BEGINNINGS- The Hammond Yankee youth travel ball teams were founded by Jay Artigues and Tony Salim in 2011. Their home is the Sportsplex. 

“Anywhere from 10 to 20 kids have moved on to the college and professional ranks after playing Yankee ball,” Salim said. “Anyone can try out and we just try to get the best players possible. We’ve taken both experienced and raw kids. It just depends on what we think their potential can be.”

Wade Miley, who is a pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, has trained at the facility and has hosted camps there in the offseason. Kolton Kendrick, who plays within the Minnesota Twins organization, and Zach Clark, a player in the Brewers organization, also train at the Sportsplex in the offseason.

Beyond this summer, the growing continues for the Sportsplex. Salim confirmed that the facility has purchased additional land to expand the property to include turf fields with hopes of being able to host their own tournaments. The move should make Hammond a major hub for youth baseball within South Louisiana.

In addition to the sports services, the Sportplex also offers their space for birthday parties for kids.

“Obviously, there was a big need for birthday parties in the area,” Salim said. “Guests can come in and they have the entire turf area. There’s a variety of games kids can pick from that include kickball, dodgeball, wuffleball, and flag football that is organized and run by trained staff.”

Birthday packages include a field facilitator, a hostess, soft drinks and bounce houses by request.

This summer the Sportsplex will also host a regularly scheduled Parents’ Night Out that will last from 6-10 p.m. For $25 a guest, parents will be able to drop their children off for an event that includes activities, bounce houses and food in a package.

Next month the summer camp schedule will begin at the Sportsplex:
June 4- Barrett Morgan Baseball Camp from 5 to 7 p.m.
June 4-7- All Day Sports Camp from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
June 11- Chris McBride Soccer Camp from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Ages 5-13)
June 12-13- Kids’ Cheer Camp time TBA. (Ages 5-12)
June 18-21- Jay Artigues Baseball Camp from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Ages 9-13)
June 25-23- All Day Sports Camp from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
July 16-19- Jay Artigues Baseball Camp from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Ages 9-12)

For more information, please call (985) 956-7770 or visit jasportsplex.com.

FULL STORY: Tigers’ Melvin Baker officially signs with Coastal Alabama CC

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NEW ERA- Independence High Magnet School graduating senior Melvin Baker has signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Coastal Alabama Community College. He is seen here seated next to Tigers coach Ace Misita and his mother Jennifer Cook. Behind him are Principal Chasity Collier and Sun Chiefs coach Robby Robertson. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

On Tuesday, May 22, Independence High Magnet School graduating senior Melvin Baker signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Coastal Alabama Community College, fulfilling a personal goal to reach the next level. Baker, a three-year starter, was exceptional during his time with the Tigers, and displayed measurable improvement each season.

“I don’t think you can truly put into words what Melvin has done for our program,” said Tigers coach Ace Misita. “Before I got here, when he was a freshman, he was hurt and couldn’t play and they went 0-20. Then three years later and he’s a senior, we’re 19-5 and on the cusp of making a deep playoff run.”

At the conclusion of this season, the Tigers advanced to the second round of the LHSAA 2A postseason where they fell to Many 52-46, the third seed.

As humble as Baker comes across, his impact as a leader was significant as he contributed through every position on the floor. Now he has a chance to play the role of a contributor for the Sun Chiefs, a program that seems to be a natural fit for the 6’6 swingman forward.

“We play position-less basketball, following a trend started by the Golden State Warriors, so we don’t really have any expectations around what kind of position he’ll play,” Sun Chiefs Head Coach Robby Robertson said. “We need some help around and above the rim, and I think he can help us there. But we aren’t going to post him up and back him down every time. He’s going to have some freedom and we will put him in the best possible position to be successful.”

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Sun Chiefs Assistant Coach Len Lanier discovered Baker through a mutual connection on his AAU team, Northshore Elite out of Slidell. Now that he has the opportunity, Baker is ready to make the most out of it.

“They told me to expect more of a work out plan and to work my way up to get into spots I want to be in,” Baker said. “I just expect to go to school, be in class, eat right, wake up at certain times and stuff like that.”

The quiet natured Baker says going to a school not far from home, 36 minutes northeast of Mobile, will make the transition a bit easier. However, he admits with a smile, that getting used to a new environment for the first time will still be a challenge.

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Photo by Matthew Roy.

What Baker leaves behind in Independence is a legacy unique to Tangipahoa Parish. When the best athletes move on to the college ranks, it is practically tradition that it will be accomplished in football. In Baker’s case, he always dominated on the hardwood, scoring over 1,500 points in his high school career and being named District 9-2A MVP this season.

“He’s an excellent young man and his mother did a wonderful job raising him,” Misita said. “He’s never been tardy or in trouble during his four years at Independence. Coastal Alabama got themselves a good one.”

Independence hoops star Melvin Baker receives first offer

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GETTING LOOKS- Melvin Baker, who recently graduated from Independence High Magnet School, has received his first offer from Coastal Alabama Community College. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Recent graduate of Independence High Magnet School Melvin Baker is looking to further his career in basketball, and has announced that his first is offer from Coastal Alabama Community College in Bay Minnette, just northeast of Mobile.

Last season, Coastal Alabama CC turned in a 20-9 overall record while competing in the Alabama Community College Conference. The were eliminated in the first round of the postseason by Marion Military Institute.

Baker was a standout for the Tigers at forward. He scored over 1,200 points in his varsity career and was awarded District 9-2A MVP after the season ended.

Last season, the Tigers, under Coach Ace Misita, compiled a total record of 19-6 and the squad finished as District 9-2A Runner Up. Their regular season finish qualified them for a selection in the LHSAA 2A playoffs where they were defeated in the second round by No. 3 Many 52-46.

Standing at 6-foot-6, Baker mostly saw time in the front court for Independence as he was the Tigers’ most physical player. Now that he’s eying moving on to the college level, he wants to transition into becoming a guard for more favorable size matchups. While he may be raw in some areas, what Baker can bring to the guard position is someone that can run the floor, play physical defense and shoot the three. As the Tigers’ big man, Baker often started one-man fast breaks that were initiated by a defensive rebound followed by him handling the ball up the floor for the score.

For the summer, Baker will join the roster of the Northshore Elite AAU team to sharpen his skills as he possibly waits to see if he can pick up more offers. The deadline for prospective basketball players to sign with a Division I program in the NCAA is on May 16 and the deadline for Division II is on August 1.

Players that receive an offer from a school in the National Junior College Athletic Association have 14 days to respond. The final day to sign with a NJCAA program is on August 1.

 

Oak Forest Academy boys hoops senior Chris Backa signs with LSU-Alexandria

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CHASING DREAMS- Oak Forest Academy senior forward Chris Backa, a native of Finland, has signed with LSU-Alexandria. He is pictured next to his host family Tanya and Kyle Warren. Back row (from left) Jacket assistant coach Joe Fekete and head coach Curtis Matherne. Photo By Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

On Thursday, May 10, Oak Forest Academy (Amite, LA) boys basketball senior forward Chris Backa officially signed a letter of intent to play for LSU-Alexandria. Backa, who is a native of Finland, averaged 14.5 ppg. and 6.5 rpg in the 2017-18 season, and shot 44 percent from 3-pt. range for the Yellow Jackets.

“This season, I saw a kid who is determined to get better,” OFA head coach Curtis Matherne said of the 6-foot-9 wing. “Until Christmas, we tried to make him play with his back to the basket, which was a little out of character for him. I met with my assistant, Coach Joe Fekete, and we figured out that we needed him on the perimeter to make plays, and from that point on he improved dramatically.”

Backa was featured on an OFA team that made it to the semifinal round of the MAIS AAAA Div. 2 State Championship Tournament were they fell short to Madison-Ridgeland Academy 65-63. The Jackets finished their season with a 20-10 overall record.

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“First of all, I have to say that I loved playing here,” Backa said of Oak Forest Academy. “We had a wonderful start to the season, then things got a little bit rough, but we didn’t give up. To only lose by two to MRA in the overtime of the semifinals I’d say we had a really good season.”

 

Backa says he is aware of the national attention brought to the LSU-A program, under head coach Larry Cordaro, since their run to make it to the NAIA Finals. The opportunity to play for a high caliber program, he says, was a major factor in his decision to sign with the Generals.

Backa also said he had special insight into Generals’ program thanks to his coach’s relationship with Cordaro.

“Corardo and I worked at Southeastern Louisiana University as grad assistants,” Matherne said. “He’s an awesome guy who’s built a national powerhouse in Alexandria. What I was stressing to Chris is that LSU-A is a family type program similar to what we have here. I know that was an important factor to Chris.”

Matherne went on to call Backa a “perfect fit” for LSU-A, noting that they were looking for a bigger player that could hit 3-pointers and make plays off the bounce. Backa said he sees himself primarily as a shooting wing, but he feels he can also be a player that does multiple things with the ball in his hands.

“Playing in America has been an eye opener for me,” Backa said. “I’ve gotten to experience many different cultures and see how different people live. I’ve also met many people who are now like family to me.”

With Backa signing at LSU-A, he makes the fourth OFA prospect to sign on a college level under Matherne in the last three years. Currently, the Jackets have two former players in NCAA Div. I (Mushabar Ali at Southern and Ashton Spears at Jacksonville State), and one former player (Reggie Johnson at Lamar CC) in JUCO.

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Jackson, Mississippi (pt. 1)

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Home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Photo By Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

There seems to be a reoccurring theme of crossroads on this journey. The crossroads are a change in direction, a change of scenery, or a complete change of philosophy. Not many cities in America understand that, or embody that, as well as Jackson, Mississippi.

Jackson’s roots can be traced to a French-Canadian trader named Louis LeFleur that set up shop in a village along the banks of the Pearl River in an area known as LeFleur’s Bluff. Years later, as the Mississippi territory was being prepared for statehood leaders suggested a somewhat central location for the capitol. The location we know today was chosen in 1821 and named for General Andrew Jackson for his impressive victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The new capitol was open for easy trade routes, and the new hub city would offer road that could lead in directions to other major cities.

After the Confederacy lost the Civil War in the 1860s, Jackson faced many challenges during the reconstruction period. Ultimately the expansion of the railroad was good for business, as interstate trade and commerce took hold.

Much of this type of transition into the modern era is documented at Mississippi’s Old State Capitol, which now serves as an official state museum. Built in 1839, the building wasn’t used for the state legislature for most of the state’s history as it was abandoned in years following the Civil War, but today the state’s earliest history is preserved for visitors through multi-media exhibits on self-guided tours. The museum is open daily, and admission is free.

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The old Standard Life building in Downtown Jackson. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

Mississippi has been based on agriculture for all of its existence so naturally the Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Museum in Jackson is dedicated to that early history. In an interactive visit, tourists can come face-to-face with some of the earliest farm equipment in American history. There are exhibits devoted to trains, livestock farming, and the history of the logging industry. For anyone interested in getting a view of life from a previous century, this museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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The Hotel King Edward is a throwback to Old Jackson. Photo by Jesse Brooks

Jackson is a blues city, historically and presently. The capitol city became a facilitator for the music, as the country shifted into the 1920s. The city had several labels at the time, and most of them could be found on Farish Street, an area of town for African-American commerce. Hosting everyone from Robert Johnson to Cab Calloway got their first mass audiences on Farish Street, and the area was important for businessmen and artists alike. Today, most of Farish is abandoned, and the public efforts to revitalize the section have not worked out. However, a few business owners still hang on out of pride because of the import role the street has played in history. A blues club, F. Jones Corner, on Farish aims to keep the music of Jackson blues alive. On any given night at the club locals like Jesse Robinson and Vasti Jackson can be heard.

The Civil Rights era of the 1960s brought a lot of unrest to the city of Jackson, and the city has a unique place in the fight for equality. Many of the organized efforts to defeat segregation took place in the sit-ins of the city. One of the darkest days of the struggle occurred in Jackson on June 12, 1963, with NAACP state field director was assassinated outside of his family home by KKK member Byron De La Beckwith. Evers was a WWII veteran that had played an essential role in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi and schools in Jackson. His home is open as a public historical site today at the address of 2332 Margaret Walker Alexander Drive. Inside the home there is a clear image of the kind of life the Evers family lived and everything they had gone through. The most haunting sight of the visit is that Evers’ blood still stains the carport to this day. Tours are free to the public daily though times may vary.

Jackson is a city soaked in the heavyweight of the past, but it must make a choice on what direction it wants to take for the future. Fondren, Jackson’s newly self-declared “hip” neighborhood has some suggestions. The area is revitalized with a new, yet vintage, charm. It’s where Jackson’s art and music elite of a new generation met to keep the city fresh. At any of its local businesses, you can find pop-up restaurants, local beer, and indie rockers like the Stonewalls doing their take on Jackson music.

Jackson has faced some economically challenging times in recent years just as any other American city, but right now is no different than other times Jackson has faced as a crossroad. One can only hope that a city chooses a path that honors its tradition, while still being inviting enough to grow a new generation. That may be what is happening in Jackson, and it seems that we are seeing the very beginning of that growth. With a culture that blends the old with the new, great food, be it hometown favorites or new ideas, is being mixed into that blend.