Of all of the positive statistics the Columbus High School girls basketball team has compiled in recent years, one stands out to Falcons coach Yvonne Hairston.
“We had six seniors, and we have six (college) signees,” Hairston told an audience gathered Thursday morning to celebrate Columbus student-athletes who will be playing college basketball. “That’s a blessing to say that, and that’s what it’s all about.
“I’d love to win a state championship every year, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s giving these young ladies the opportunity to move on and make a better life for themselves and their families and go on to be great young ladies.”
Five of those signees were honored in the high school auditorium: Fredija Clark, Shania Givens, Makayla Rieves, China Stewart and Charity Yeates. A sixth, MaShanti Saddler, has a scholarship offer for basketball but is also considering one for track and field.
Rieves and Yeates are headed to Itawamba Community College in Fulton. The Indians are coming off of a 15-10 season that ended with a two-point loss to Pearl River in the second round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
“When I took the visit, I kind of just knew immediately.” Yeates said of ICC, noting how much they wanted her was a key part of her decision. “I think that’s what attracted me the most, how much they really wanted to give me a scholarship.”
Yeates said she wants to study biology and psychology, with the eventual goal of an undergraduate degree in business with aspirations of being a counselor. But she also looks forward to improving as a basketball player.
“I know I’m going to a program that will push me to be my very best,” she said. “I’m so blessed that my dream has turned into reality.”
Rieves said she also got very warm feelings from being around the Indians program.
“I thought Itawamba was a good choice because they’re like a family down there,” she said. “I feel like they will take good care of me and help me get to where I want to be.”
Two other Falcons will be college teammates, as Clark and Stewart each chose Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead. The Trojans struggled this past season, posting an 8-16 record, 3-11 in the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference.
“They’re still building, and I feel like I can help with that,” Clark said, adding her aggressiveness at center will be an asset to the Trojans.
Stewart cited the campus itself as a draw — she acknowledged Moorhead, a city of just more than 2,000, is a lot smaller than Columbus. “There’s a McDonald’s,” she offered with a giggle — but she also said she liked the coaches and players. Coach Tangela Banks, who just finished her second season with the Trojans, coached Forest Hill and Murrah to state championships before going to MDCC.
Givens, meanwhile, will be heading to Meridian Community College. Traditionally a strong program, the Eagles were 10-12 this past season, 7-7 in the MACCC.
“They always have a good program,” Givens said. “They put in a lot of work, and I like the work that they do.”
The five made remarks that touched the usual bases: thanking parents, teammates, friends and coaches. But Hairston also made it clear that the players themselves put in a great deal of effort to get to this point in their lives.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on outside the court before you guys get a chance to see us play,” Hairston told the audience. “The many hours that we practice, on Saturdays, on Sundays, at 6 o’clock in the morning when you guys are sleeping, we’re in this gym.”
Hairston got emotional in her closing remarks, noting that the group was leaving her but adding, “I’m only a phone call away. And they know that.”
The players made it clear they understood that the past four years weren’t all great plays and cheering crowds. Still, if there were any regrets, they were far from the minds of everyone in the room.
Said Stewart: “This journey has been so much fun, and I wouldn’t change a single moment.”