ARLISLE — A clear indication of the culture here is that the school buses for the Class AA tournament at Carlisle High School were parked across a highway beside a large grain elevator that is part of a large seed company. Teams were shuttled to the gymnasium, which opened in December.

Across the road from the seed company, which is across the highway from the new high school and a new subdivision, is a large farm equipment business with all types of agricultural machinery in front.

“We’re just a bunch of farmers who have had kids and grandkids who go to school here and we want to help whatever way we can,” said one of a host of volunteers, appropriately wearing a ballcap advertising farm equipment.

These are your salt-of-the-earth folks. They are proud of their new facilities and new school with most of the modern, high-tech trapppings, a dream of many years born out of blood, sweat, tears and the pocketbook, and inspired by on community pride and a sense of responsibility.

Workers almost instantly pick up every bit of paper in the stands. Don’t stand near a spill or you’ll get hit by a mop. Tables are sprayed and cleaned in the hospitality room almost as a person leaves them. They carefully wipe face paint from sinks in the restrooms. Been to Disney World? It’s like that as far as cleanup.

In hosting a state basketball tournament for the first time, several folks here conceded they didn’t know exactly what was required but showed up on time every day to do what was needed. There was a regular trek of older folks to the hospitality room, bringing their homemade specialties just like they would for a family of someone who had died.

One older woman, whose husband has Alzheimer’s and bemoans the fact he is longer able to hug her every day, showed up here to man the ticket table and worked from noon until late evening every day, almost never leaving her post. Oh yeah, she also fixed four trays of wonderful homemade fudge for the hospitality room.

One volunteer apologized for breaking away in meal preparation for the hospitality room Saturday in order to prepare some fish he was going to cook for his church today.

These are early rising, “do whatever is necessary to get done before we leave” type of folks. Someone asked one at 11 a.m. Saturday if he wanted coffee. “I drink my coffee at 5 a.m.”

Those are the values that permeate this part of the heartland of Arkansas.

Two different scenes this week illustrate both the idealism that comes from these values and the clash of the modern, “what’s in it for me?” culture.

Many fans will tell you that the basketball game Friday night between Hackett and East Poinsett County, decided in Hackett’s favor on a charging call and a last-second shot, was one of the best high school basketball games they have ever witnessed.

But Saturday morning, fans here weren’t talking about how great the game was. They were talking about the final actions of East Poinsett County star Ky Madden, rated one of the top juniors in the nation, that represented one of the poorest acts of sportsmanship (or lack thereof) they have ever seen. Madden had to be escorted by law enforcement officials from the gym, where there were more law enforcement officials dealing with enraged East Poinsett County fans.
Among other things, Madden, in his rage after losing, kicked over the large water container on a table next to the bench. Gallons of water began pouring onto a corner of the new wooden floor.

Carlisle school officials and volunteers worked furiously into the early hours of Saturday morning (with a game to begin at noon) trying to clean up the small pond. They brought in a large blower. Despite their efforts, a section of of the floor was rippled from the water damage. After semifinal games Saturday, several volunteers, coaches and players walked to the corner of the sideline area and stared at the floor, evaluating the damage.

It’s a sad state when one of this town’s major tourist attractions is a damaged piece of new flooring from an uncontrolled rant by a teen-ager.

We’ll see if Arkansas Activities Association officials will put some teeth into their proud proclamations about sportsmanship and hold someone (and a school) accountable for a disgusting lack of it — a even if the perpetrator is one of the state’s best athletes and most desired recruits. From his actions at the last two state tournaments, Madden also seems to be a “high maintenance” potential recruits. What happened Friday should throw up a giant red flag.

“If I’d of done that in my day, I would have first gotten a whippping at home and then I’d be brought to the gym and not allowed to leave until I had cleaned up every bit of that mess by myself,” said one volunteer.

That’s an indicator of these folks’ core values. They were brought up that way. They can’t understand lack of respect for the property of others.

Then, there’s another scene, an uplifting one, that happened much earlier in the tournament.

After a first-round girls game, players from Hughes and Cotter gathered and kneeled in a circle at midcourt.

As a chorus of “Shssh, Shssh,” began reverberating in the stands, the celebration music stopped and the crowd slowly hushed.

Complete silence.

Players from the two teams from different parts of the state, one roster entirely African-American and another entirely white, were praying together. Upon finishing they left to a hearty applause.
I don’t know completely what two separate scenes (one involving the dark side of our nature and another the bright side,) say about the crosscurrents in our society right now.

I suspect a lot.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)