Two of my favorite people are Mario and Micaela Thomas. Most nights you will find them in a gym somewhere, as basketball is a big part of their lives.
Micaela Hopper arrived in Conway to play basketball for UCA in the early 2000s. A high school all-star from Flippin, she played on the Sugar Bears' 2005 NCAA Division II Final Four team. One of her teammates was former Guy-Perkins standout and current Conway High girls coach Ashley Hutchcraft Nance.
During her time with the Sugar Bears she met Mario, who had also played basketball for UCA. Mario grew up in Conway and played for the Wampus Cats before becoming a Bea
Mario comes from a very athletic family. His late father, Danny, played basketball for the Hendrix Warriors in the early 1970’s. He was inducted into the Hendrix Sports Hall of Honor in 1995.
Danny’s brother and Mario’s uncle, Ike Thomas, played in the NFL in the 1970’s and won a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys.
Mario and Micaela’s nephew is Breylin Smith, who is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Conway High history and now plays for UCA. Breylin’s mother and Mario’s sister, Dandra, was one of the best athletes to ever wear the Conway blue and white. She passed away in 2003 at age 27.
For the past several years, the Thomas family has helped coordinate an annual high school girls tournament in Conway named in honor of Dandra. Danny passed away last year, and the annual event is now called the Danny and Dandra Thomas Invitational.
Mario and Micaela really love basketball. They spend much of their free time coaching their kids’ AAU teams. Their daughter is in the eighth grade. They started coaching her and a group of girls when they were in the first grade.
They go by the name The Dazzlers, and boy do they live up to that moniker. They play fast, but under control. They usually win. They often play up an age level, and win a bunch of those too. A lot of their team now plays for Conway Junior High. A few of them are nationally ranked in their age group. I’m sure Micaela’s former UCA teammate, Nance, is looking forward to the next few years at CHS.
They also have a son in the fifth grade. Their team in that age group is called The City, to represent that most all the kids on that team are from Conway. They even use the official City of Conway logo on their jerseys.
That team is pretty good, too. Mario and Micaela have always emphasized learning the fundamentals at the younger ages. Skills and drills. It shows in that those boys have gotten better each year.
They do indeed love basketball. And that’s a good thing, because they won’t be done anytime soon, as they have another baby boy at home who is not quite 2 years old.