CHOCTAW — Shartese McHenry squatted in front of her players, a couple dozen seconds left in the game and a state tournament victory hanging in the balance.
The Boynton-Moton basketball coach locked her eyes on the girls as she hollered above the gym’s din.
"We’re still a team,” she said. "That’s what we’ve been all year.”
She looked up and down the bench again.
"Don’t give up on that,” she said.
These girls weren’t about to do that. Not with so much on the line. Not with so much on their shoulders.
They are trying to not only win state but also save their school.
On the surface, Boynton’s 53-49 victory against Moss on Thursday afternoon looked like any other first-round game in the small-school state tournaments. But for a team from a school district facing budget problems so severe that a school board member predicted a few months ago that the district wouldn’t survive the academic year, winning took on added significance.
"One of the reasons we’re working so hard is we want our school to stay open,” junior guard Breanna Hutchinson said. "This
is going to be a reason why.”
These girls want to win a state championship — every team that gets this far does — but doing so is about more than them. It is about their school. It is about their community.
It is about hope.
In the Muskogee County town of 300, hope has been in short supply in recent months.
Last fall, at a time when state education funds were already being cut, the district attorney requested an audit of the Boynton-Moton school district. The state auditor determined that there were "possible irregularities and misappropriations of school funds by the school system treasurer.”
The fallout has been severe in a town where the school is the community’s heartbeat.
School board positions have been vacated. Concerns about the district’s leadership have been raised. Fingers have been pointed, and feelings have been hurt.
"We have been cut till we bleed,” district superintendent Shelbie Williams said at last month’s school board meeting, "and we are way past blame.”
Now, people are trying to save the school.