The State High School Basketball Tournament gets underway on Thursday for classes 3A through 6A.
In the class 4A girls bracket, the Lady Tigers of Ft. Gibson have a legit shot at bringing home the school's second gold ball trophy. The program has had tons of success - nine straight trips to the State Tournament isn't done by accident - but do they garner the respect that they feel is deserved?
"No, not at all," senior guard Taylor London says. "Every year people doubt us... "we lost people", ever year. I think we prove ourselves every year."
Junior guard Savannah Gray agrees with Taylor, saying "We're just expected to win, and if we ever lose, we kind of lose respect. I guess teams just don't like us, because we have a tradition and if anything ever happens, they want to break that."
But breaking that tradition has been easier said than done. Coach Jerry Walker has been head coach at Ft. Gibson for 18 years, and has guided the team to an 82-3 record the past three seasons.
"I don't know that we would be a dynasty," Coach Walker said. "We've been getting to the finals a lot. We've won one Gold Ball, and five silver's I think. We're a pretty good ball club, and we play well together which makes us dangerous. We've been very successful, I'll say that."
What makes the Lady Tigers program so successful is the team-first philosophy of Coach Walker, who says you won't see any 20 point scorers on his teams. At Ft. Gibson, it's all about teamwork. Getting his girls to buy in is something that starts at home.
"Everybody wants your kid to do well, " says Coach Walker. "But doing well here has been going to the State Tournament, and winning a lot of games - not doing well individually. That's the mindset that even our parents have. And when you're parents are on the same page with you, the sky's the limit."
The Lady Tiger's quest for Gold Ball Trophy number two continues Thursday afternoon at 3:30 PM, when they talk on fifth seed Weatherford at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany.