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Center Hill students cheer for their team during the Mustangs’ 5A semifinal victory over Hattiesburg Tuesday evening. The win put Center Hill into the boys’ state championship game for the first time in school history.

March is a special time of the year. Coming out of the doldrums of winter, we start to enjoy more daylight, students and families look forward to Spring Break, and the promise of warmer weather starts to become more of a reality. 

It is also a special time of year for youngsters who dribble, catch and shoot the basketball. There’s a reason it’s called March Madness, especially among the college crowd, but even down to the high school ranks.

In some places, small towns are almost shuttered up as fans follow their teams to the state tournament.

That may not be the case in the more urban settings of DeSoto County, but some personal time was likely taken and some school students found themselves inside Mississippi Coliseum this week instead of the classroom.

It’s all about the Tournament, and for four DeSoto County schools, the culmination of a year of practice and hard work was being reached with their appearance in Jackson.

Boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from Olive Branch, the Center Hill boys’ team, and the girls from Hernando all took to the Mississippi Coliseum floor this week in search of bragging rights as the state’s best team in their division.

The number of teams from DeSoto County is actually five when you also consider Northpoint Christian School’s seventh-straight appearance in the Tennessee Division II-A state girls’ Final Four last weekend at Nashville.

Tuesday, Olive Branch and Center Hill fans were in attendance to back their squads and while the distance to Jackson may have been longer than their competition, the schools were well-represented, maybe almost more so than the schools they were playing against.

“That first game tipped off at four o’clock and it almost seemed like we had half the city of Olive Branch here,” said Olive Branch High School principal Jacob Stripling. “I was sitting in the middle between the two and the OB fans were a whole lot louder than the Hattiesburg fans.”

For Doug Payne, principal at Center Hill High School, Tuesday’s appearance at state meant that Mustang followers came down to back a team that has set school records through the year and a team that has reflected well on his school.

“We had a spirit bus that had 60-some kids ride down here and we’ve got a lot that rode down here themselves,” Payne said. “We’re supporting the Mustangs and we’re fired up about it.”

Fan support is always treasured by teams that are involved in competition, especially when state championships are on the line.

“Fans mean a lot because they help give a team momentum,” said Olive Branch girls’ coach Jason Thompson. “They help get us in a position to do the things we are capable of doing. It’s the fans that gave us that moral support in encouragement from the sidelines.”

Newton Mealer, head boys’ coach at Center Hill, added fans who travel to back his team help create a home court atmosphere, even away from home.

“You get a lot of people who come out and support you and they get loud,” said Mealer. “They can really create that home court advantage away from home and that’s what we need out of our fans.”

It’s March… the Madness is here, and DeSoto County basketball backers are taking in every moment of it.

“This is what you work all season for,” said Payne. “This is what you practice all summer and have those long days and nights just to get here. To have an opportunity to play in a Final Four is something that doesn’t come around too often.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.