Desoto County Sports

Hoopin’ it up for community in Holly Springs

Photo: Olive Branch players gather before their game against Ashland at the 4 Mississippi Hoops Classic, held at Rust College in Holly Springs. (Bob Bakken/

It was likely quite the basketball rivalry back in the day, as high schools in Olive Branch, Holly Springs, Byhalia and Ashland brought their best against the other schools on the hardwood. 

Saturday night at Rust College in Holly Springs, the rivalries were renewed in an event called the 4 Mississippi Hoops Classic, as alumni players from the schools came together one more time.

Event coordinator Cheri Ranz, who with Byron Black, an Olive Branch insurance agent; Keith Hardaway of Byhalia, a local barbershop owner; and Thomas Henderson, an Olive Branch business owner, formed the Community Unity Collective 4 Mississippi and put on the classic played inside the college’s Kinzell Lawson Gymnasium.  

After a drawing to see who would play who, the four teams of alumni players representing Olive Branch, Holly Springs, Byhalia and Ashland took to the floor and played to a championship. In between, fans were entertained by groups, including the Holly High Alumni Drum Corps,          GHS Dancers, and dancer Derrick Royston. 

Ranz says the rivalries may have been heated back in the day, but the event Saturday was meant to bring communities together and it was also held at Rust College as a means of supporting the HBCU college, the oldest such college and university in the state. 

“I saw an opportunity to unite multiple communities,” Ranz said. “Then, you add that Rust College has been struggling with enrollment since COVID-19 and most of these communities have direct ties to Rust College. We wanted to generate positive foot traffic on campus to hopefully attract some of those students that are going elsewhere, right here in their communities.” 

Saturday came about after Ranz helped organize alumni games separately at different schools and the talk started going around about who might win if they came together.  

“Holly Springs is a rival with Byhalia,” Ranz said. “They’ve all rivaled with each other at some point and they have a lot of players that are related.”

Proceeds from the event went to the Rust College Student Support Fund, Ranz said. 

Another part of the event was recognition of the 1977 United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) national small college championship basketball team from Rust College and coach Naylond Hayes. Mo Williams, head basketball coach at Jackson State University and former NBA championship player was there.  Malik Newman, who starred on championship teams at Callaway High School and has gone on to play in the G League and internationally, was on hand to represent his father Horatio Webster, as were family members of the late Ole Miss basketball star Justin Reed, who played in the NBA for several years before blood cancer took his life.  

The night ended a bit short for the Olive Branch alums, as Ashland rallied to beat the Conquistador alums 52-48 and Ashland went on to play Holly Springs for the championship. Organizers feel the real winners are the supporters of Rust College and the sense of one community among the four communities, uniting on the gymnasium floor.