PARRISH — Preparation is key to any successful team — whether it’s in the business world, a medical unit, or on the hardwood for a basketball squad.
For the sixth-ranked Parrish Tornadoes, preparation often comes in the form of grueling and intense practice sessions, designed to improve the team's’ execution and game plan in upcoming games, as well as to address challenges in game play that could be hampering the squad’s ability to perform at a peak level.
During the week of Dec. 4 to Dec. 8, the Tornadoes faced what would be nicknamed “the gauntlet” — a four game stretch where only one mid-week practice could be held during the period.
Parrish started off the week unscathed, beating the Oakman Wildcats, 55-25, then defeated then 10th-ranked Class 4A Carbon Hill Bulldogs, 37-36. For Tornadoes coach Heath Burns, the team’s defensive performance in the first two games of the week had been well within his level of expectation. The offense, however, had struggled in both games — missing layups and shots at the free throw line, a source of great concern for Burns.
“The defense had been playing great — against Oakman we were able to force 27 turnovers, but we couldn’t convert those turnovers into points,” Burns said. “We had the same problems against Carbon Hill — missing open shots and not executing the way we should have been. Any time you have that many opportunities to get points on the scoreboard and come up empty, it’s critical to work hard to get the issue corrected.”
A practice for the Parrish basketball team is often more challenging for the players than a normal regulation game is. The fast-paced and endurance-testing sessions are specially timed by Burns and his coaching staff to ensure each area of concern and preparation is done within an allotted time span — further heightening the team’s ability to learn and adapt quickly under pressure. When the team is behind schedule, it indicates to Burns that his team is struggling with the exercise, while being ahead of schedule is viewed as being a positive sign of progress.
Junior Tyler Sims, as well as many of his teammates, are quick to admit that the practice sessions are extremely rigorous, but carry the additional benefit of improving the team’s conditioning — enabling the squad to be more prepared to survive a four-game week.
“Every practice we go through is tough — and we all feel that it should be that way. With the speed that we move at and the effort we put forth, we play three games every time we practice,” Sims said. “When go through that every time you practice, you can play four games in a five-day period and still be in good shape. It’s a real testament to our coaches, who keep us in top shape and have us working as hard as we can to improve our game.”
The end of practice is a time where Burns is able to evaluate his team’s performance and speak on the next opponent on the schedule. It’s also a time for personal mentoring between the coach and his players, where he motivates his young men to do their best on the court, in the classroom and in their communities. The lone mid-week practice session also sees the arrival of a special guest — former Walker Viking and current Vanderbilt Commodore football player Jacquese Kirk — who played under Burns at Maddox Middle School. Burns cites Kirk, a Parrish native, as an example to his players of how hard work, dedication to the classroom and keeping a positive image can propel them forward into a bright future.
“Jacquese showed that through his commitment to academics, athletics and good citizenship that there’s no limit to what a young person can accomplish,” Burns said. “Now he’s playing football in the SEC at one of the most academically renown universities in the country. He’s a positive role model for young people.”