Why a No. 1-ranked Louisiana girls basketball team has practiced on a dirt court all season

LaMar Gafford
Alexandria Town Talk

No gym, no problem.

For the past 18 months, the Hicks boys and girls basketball teams have rallied around this motto after losing their gym and pavilion to Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, 2020.

While the Pirates and Lady Pirates are still without an actual home for their games — splitting between in-parish schools Simpson and Rosepine — they have an on-campus court for practice.

However, that court is outside and it's on dirt.

The Hicks girls have won three straight state championships and are a No. 1 seed this season.

“We just kind of put it together last year,” Hicks boys basketball coach Neil Standifer said. “We just needed something for our kids to continue to be able to get shots up, skill development and practice during the school day.

"So, we got a lot of help from different people around the community to be able to put this court together.”

The boys and girls Hicks High School baskeball run drills together on a dirt court outside the school.

Getting their own gym back remains a hurdle as Vernon Parish School Board athletic director Hub Jordan said that the biggest holdup is getting insurance issues straightened out.

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"We've been working and dealing with insurance companies and architects and there's just been a lot of delays," Jordan said. "They're trying to settle that."

The roof of Hicks' gym was damaged during the storm and while that was fixed, the gym itself has yet to be renovated — which is the last part of a three-phase project.

VPSB finance director Tim Ward said that the bid to fix the interior of gym will be out in February and that it will cost about $3 million to fix. While there is no concrete date of having things finished, he hopes that the renovations will be completed by this fall.

"We have a lot of supply chain issues right now, you know, getting certain materials in," Ward said. "So, that's held us up on some avenues, too.

"We're trying to get this gym (done) as quick as possible with the resources that we have available to us. There's probably nobody else out there that wants to see this done any faster than what we do."

The Hicks dirt court was constructed in front of the school and across the street from its baseball and softball fields and consists of six basketball goals that are not only used by the basketball teams, but by fellow students for recess and by people that live in the community.

As a result, whatever blades of grass that were present are now gone, but that has not stopped Hicks from using the court for shooting and passing drills.

“It is challenging, because you come out here and your hands get dirty or you try to do a layup and dirt gets in your eyes, but we’re just making it work any way that we can,” Lady Pirate senior and Nicholls signee Lauren Quinn said.

Hicks High School baskeball senior players Lauren Quinn (second from right) and Kase Busby (far right) run drills on a dirt court outside the high school. The boys and girls teams practice together on the court.

That often includes times where the boys might practice on one end of the court, while the girls occupy the other end or even when members of both teams mix up for fullcourt passing drills.

Hicks girls coach Mike Charrier and Standifer often work together to make sure their teams get equal time to practice.

Hicks' preference for practice is the dirt court, but if weather doesn't cooperate there are indoor options at other schools and even a church. Charrier said his Lady Pirates are practicing on it about 60% of the time during winter, but it was around 70-75% when the season began. 

“It works well when we’re able to come out last hour where we get some fundamental work,” Charrier said. “There’s plenty of open space, so that’s not a problem.”

“We mix our boys and girls out here a lot whenever the weather permits, or if we’re not in film session,” Standifer said. “We have lots of time where we’re out here together, just letting our kids have fun and get some skill work in at the same time.”

The roof of Hicks' gym was torn after Hurricane Laura went through Vernon Parish on Aug. 27, 2020.

Last season, the Lady Pirates won their third straight LHSAA Class C state title despite practicing at nearby Simpson High School at 4:30 a.m. They then would often practice again during seventh hour of the school day on the dirt court or try to practice at another school in Vernon Parish.

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With a 30-5 record this season, Hicks is the No. 1 seed in Class C in the state tournament bracket, which was released Monday and is poised to win its fourth straight title and reach its fifth straight state tournament.

“We tell our players, ‘Don’t judge our students by what they’ve accomplished, but measure by what they’ve overcome,’” Charrier said. “The life lessons that they’ll take from this adversity, weathering this storm and the grace they’ve showed has really inspired me as a coach and a teacher at Hicks High School.”

Hicks High School senior Avery Coffman (front) runs drills with both the girls and boys teams on a dirt court outside the school.

Quinn is one of two seniors leading the way for the Lady Pirates along with 2021 Class C championship game Most Outstanding Player Avery Coffman.

While those two have experienced great success in basketball since their eighth grade years, they hope to win another championship for their community and supporters.  

“I think (another state title) would mean everything for us, our classmates and even our community,” Quinn said. “It’s not just us that doesn’t have a gym, our classmates and the younger kids don’t have a place to go in the community. I watched a game a few years back and it was packed. Now, our community can’t come out.”

“The big challenges you can plan for, it’s always the small things — an air pump, a flat ball or a door that wasn’t propped open — that really get you,” Charrier said. “But our girls and boys continue to keep a positive attitude. They have continued to inspire the students and the faculty.

"A little complaining gets the best of us at times, but the good Lord’s grace comes in and we’re able to endure another day or two.”

The Pirate boys also have strong aspirations of reaching the state tournament in Lake Charles as they have remained competitive in District 3-C, arguably one of the toughest Class C districts in Louisiana. They are four games back in district play but are ranked No. 7 in Class C at 15-19.

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“It took a while to adjust,” Standifer said. “At lot of people may ask us about not having a gym to be able to play home games, but that’s just the smallest aspect of it. The biggest thing for us is the day-to-day basis just having to travel to different gyms for practice, so it’s just a lot of hours on the road and getting in later.”

Hicks High School baskeball senior player Connor Helton (center) shoots while running drills on a dirt court outside the high school with both the boys and girls teams. The boys and girls teams practice together.

The Hicks boys are led by Kase Busby and Connor Helton, who have never played an on-campus home game since they have become starters.

“It’s been a different experience from what most kids get in high school, but I don’t think I would change it for anything,” Helton said.

One day, Hicks hopes to have its gym back and a sense of normalcy, but support remains from not only themselves or the community, but from others outside it.

Recently, it was announced that Hicks will earn a $5,000 donation from Coca-Cola to help with renovations for the gym after Charrier’s oldest daughter, Shaley, helped produce a video of the team’s story.

“The schools around the parish have been very accommodating and we’d like to thank them, but there’s nothing like having your own home gym and we’re just praying for the day where this process speeds up,” Charrier said.