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By JOEL COLEMAN
Four years ago, Ackerman head boys and girls basketball coach Gary Beals saw something missing from the high school hoops scene.
"I knew New Albany had a boys deal at this time," said Beals. "The more I thought about it, there wasn't very many that just had an only-girls thing this time of year."
Thus, today, Beals and his Lady Indians host the fourth annual Randy Carpenter Mid-Mississippi Challenge.
The field consists of several area schools including Ackerman and Eupora, as well as teams from larger classifications such as Tupelo, New Hope and Kosciusko.
"We're unique in that we're kind of set in the central part of the state," said Beals. "We're able to get teams from the south and the northeast and northwest part of the state."
The one-day-only event begins today at 10 a.m. as Ackerman faces New Hope. At 11:30 a.m., Weir takes on Ethel.
Games that follow include Tishomingo County against Eupora at 1 p.m., J.Z. George against Oxford at 2:30 p.m., Coldwater against Lake at 4 p.m., H.W. Byers against Scott Central at 5:30 p.m., and New Site against Choctaw Central at 7 p.m.
The festivities end with an 8:30 p.m. game between Kosciusko and Tupelo.
While this is the fourth year that Ackerman has hosted the Mid-Mississippi Challenge, it is the first time that the event has bore the name of Carpenter.
Carpenter, a long-time supporter and booster of Ackerman athletics passed away in December of 2009.
"In my years of being here, I don't think he missed a basketball game," said Beals of Carpenter. "He didn't miss a home game and I know he didn't miss a road game, especially when (Carpenter's son) Caleb was playing, and even after Caleb graduated.
"He was very loyal. He liked basketball here and he was just very supportive of Ackerman athletics. He did stats for football. He was at baseball and just everything. He did a lot. I thought the world of him."
Carpenter would have definitely approved of this year's participants.
"It's a quality field this year," said Beals. "We've got some great players and great teams and a lot of state champions from years past."
Beals says it is a goal each year to match each contest up so that the day's games are as competitive as possible.
"In certain cases, when you get 16 teams, it's hard to do that sometimes," said Beals. "We try to match them up to where they can get a look at each other before the playoffs start.
"I'm excited about it. Last year, all the games came down to a bucket or two and were all nail-biters. It was good basketball. The games were great and the gym was packed."