As the Class A Boy’s State Tournament approaches, a series of hard fought games and intense moments await.
Every team still standing knows that if they don’t have the team chemistry to handle those trying moments, their time playing in the tournament won’t last long.
Fortunately for the Velma-Alma Comets, the team’s chemistry between their eight seniors has been building since they were five years old.
The team’s class of 2013 – Dallas Bare, Zac Cable, Austin Dennis, Ty Dulworth, L.L. Humphreys, Checotah Lynn, Dallen Mercer and Tyler Nalley – has been together in Velma since kindergarden.
They were busy teaming up and terrorizing sports leagues of all kinds as soon as they were old enough to compete and have brought the town they all grew up in to a second straight state tournament.
“Ever since we’ve been little, we’ve been winning championships,” Dallas Bare said. “We’ve been extremely successful as a group.”
Velma coach Kenny Bare and his family moved to Velma when his son Dallas was in kindergarden. As soon as Dallas started playing sports, he found friendship in the form of seven other kids who ate, breathed and slept sports.
“What I’m going to remember the most about this group is that it’s my son’s group of friends,” Bare said. “As a parent, you become close to those people.”
Away from games and practice, the group is attached at the hip. Whether it’s film sessions at coach Bare’s house, the annual trips to basketball camp, or going to the movies, the bond goes beyond the court.
Four years ago, a tournament in Ada brought the players even closer together. When the seniors were in eighth grade, Kenny Bare’s father, a middle school principal in Ada, passed away. The city of Ada named their eighth grade basketball tournament after him – the Albert Bare Cougar Cub Classic – and called Kenny to see if he would like to have his team play in the tournament in response to the name change. Bare’s Class A team seized the moment, upsetting Class 5A squads McCalister and Ada before falling to Class 6A Putnam City in a close finals game.
“That was a special time for this group, and it’s a special memory for me,” Bare said. “They still talk about going down to that tournament and almost beating a 6A team.”
Here and now, the seniors’ final mission is clear: to bring Velma-Alma its first state title in 28 years. After falling in the first round of last year’s state tournament, the hunger to win is greater than ever.
“We want redemption,” Lynn said. “We’re ready to get back and prove ourselves.”
For the last two years, Bare, Cable, Lynn and Mercer have started together for the Comets. When it comes to knowing how their teammates play, there aren’t any surprises at this point.
“If I get in trouble, I know exactly where everyone will be,” Dallas Bare said. “Every year, we know each other’s tendencides.”
Their time together has paid dividends in the clutch too. Take V-A’s last win for example, a 68-66 grinder of a game against previously undefeated Glencoe that could have gone either way. The Comets made 14 of 17 free throws, many coming in the fourth quarter, and never led by more than three.
There is one thing all eight seniors have in common.
“We’re all leaders. In games and in practice we’re all just trying to get better,” Cable said. “There’s no one lead person, it’s a group effort.”
The players know that the end of their playing time together is near, and agree that when it happens, it won’t be easy.
“It’s sad ... you don’t know how much you’re going to see each other after graduation,” Mercer said. “You have to make the best of it while you can.”
The state tournament is the only obstacle left in the decade-plus-long careers of Velma’s eight seniors. If things go according to plan, they will add one more championship to the endless number they earned while growing up.