Sometimes a person’s nickname becomes more well-known and commonly used than their given name.
Some examples include Babe Ruth, Sonny Liston, Lefty Grove and Tiny Archibald.
Their given names were George, Charles, Robert and Nate, respectively.
Another example is Conway High School boys’ basketball coach Salty Longing.
Longing got his Wampus Cats to the 6A state championship game against Little Rock Central, which was supposed to be held on Saturday.
The AAA wisely decided to postpone the finals due to the coronavirus.
Much of this column was written before that decision, but I’ll still take this opportunity to praise this team.
Neither team was supposed to make it all the way to Hot Springs.
The Tigers were the four seed from the Central conference. The Wampus Cats were the five seed.
Conway had to beat the number one ranked team in the state, North Little Rock, to advance.
The Charging Wildcats had beaten Conway twice in the regular season. Conway won the quarterfinal over NLR by 15. Little Rock Central had to beat the defending 6A state champions, Fort Smith Northside. The Grizzles had beaten Central twice in the regular season. Central won the semifinal over Northside by three points.
Conway High School has a rich basketball history.
Under coach C.D. Taylor, the Cats claimed state championships in 1973 and 1974. Joe Graham won it all in 1976.
That’s the team that went 36-0 and also won Conway’s only overall title.
Conway won it all again in 2010 with James Bates at the helm.
The Wampus Cats have also finished as state runners-up in 1964, 1975, 1981, 1995 and 2008.
Longing graduated from CHS in 1986 and went on to play basketball at Hendrix.
His senior season, Conway had one of their best teams in program history to not make the finals.
They had a strong group of seniors who played together for years. Four of the starters went on to play in college.
They fell in the state quarterfinals to eventual champs Blytheville in a game where the Cats found themselves down 18-5 after one period, only to end up losing by a single point.
A lot of very good basketball players have worn the blue and white over the years. This year’s team has some very good players.
But I’m not going to focus on any individuals. I’m going to focus on the whole, because it has been a true team effort this season.
While hopes are always high, I’m not sure many outside of that locker room expected the Cats to get this far.
My older son is a junior at CHS and is a manager for the Wampus Cats.
So, I’ve watched more basketball in the last two years than in the previous two decades.
I saw this team collectively get better as the season has progressed. If someone was having an off night, someone else stepped up. They appeared to be peaking at the right time. No one is sure when, or even if, they will play the championship game. But no matter what, these Wampus Cats had a great season. Oh, and by the way, coach Longing’s given name is Brian.