R.C. Hatch writes perfect end to story

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 6, 2006

It would have made for a heck of a book. Maybe even a heck of a movie.

After all, there’s an awful lot of “Friday Night Lights” in the story of this season’s R.C. Hatch boys. There’s the first-year coach, having paid his dues with the junior high squad and now taking over for the retiring legend. There’s the sophomore wunderkind already drawing national recruiting attention and neatly straddling the line between confident and cocky in his interview sessions. There’s the seven seniors, and the charismatic junior center recovering from a brutal injury, and even a terrific villain in the form of No. 1 Altamont, the elite Birmingham prep school whose kids have every bit of the off-court money and privilege that Hatch’s do not. (I mean, Altamont even beat Hatch in last year’s playoffs. How perfect does it get?)

And most of all, there’s Uniontown. If you’ve seen (or read) “Friday Night Lights” you know that what makes it such a special is how important the local high school football team is to the town of Permian, Tx. I, for one, seriously, seriously doubt that the Permian Panthers were any more important to those fans than the Bobcats are to the people of Uniontown.

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Thanks to the good work of Mayor Phillip White and others in Uniontown, there’s more for the people of that city to be proud of than there might have been in past years. But there’s one place where the people of Uniontown have always been able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other community in the state, and that’s on the basketball court.

It’s hard not to feel more-than-a-little sorry for the Lanett Panthers, a terrific (better than I expected, quite frankly) basketball team that suffered its second straight defeat in the 2A championship game. But knowing how much pride the people of Uniontown take in their hoops–and how hard that same kind of pride is to come by in that community–it was also awful hard not to break the code Thursday night that reporters not cheer from press row.

In “Friday Night Lights,” the Permian fans chant “Mojo! Mojo!” The Bobcat supporters’ equivalent is a call-and-response chant that begins “Who you rootin’ for?” Thursday night, I couldn’t help but want to answer: R…C…Hatch!

Other notes from Birmingham as your friendly neighborhood Sports Editor waits for the start of Sumter County’s 3A championship game (of which much of what I’ve written about the importance to community would also apply):

Hatch might have a reputation as a high-flying, nasty-dunking, three-stroking, offensive force of a team, but it was the Bobcats’ defense that won their 2006 title. Lanett sank 5-of-10 three-point baskets in the first quarter over the Hatch zone, but after coach Davis switched to a man-to-man the Bobcats held the Panthers to 1-of-17 three-point shooting over the final three quarters. Lanett never found a consistent way to score inside, and though it took them nearly all 32 minutes, eventually the Bobcats caught up with them.

If I’m Sunshine girls’ coach Phillip Wagner, after McIntosh crushed Hazlewood 105-59 for the 1A title, I start next year by saying “We were down by one point in the final minute to that team at Regionals. That’s how close we are to a state title. Let’s go.”

While we’re still (sort of) on the topic of Uniontown’s fans, let me say that the title of loudest, rockingest set of Black Belt supporters here in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center would be … a dead heat between the Bobcat fans and the Greene County Tiger fans. I think you’d have to have had a decibel-meter to tell them apart. Both sets of fans were, well, nuts during their teams’ games. Sumter County’s were maybe a little more subdued, but that may have been due to their team’s 10:30 a.m. start for their semifinal. We’ll see tonight.