By Erik Harris
PINSON — The basketball rivalry between Pinson Valley and Center Point high schools has returned from the ruins of its former self and found prosperity.
In January 2006, back when Center Point was still under its original name as Erwin High School, a fatal shooting occurred between students of the neighboring schools in the Pinson Valley parking lot following a Friday night basketball game, which saw the Eagles come away with a 84-79 road win.
Reports were that the deadly exchange had nothing to do with the basketball game and everything to do with friction between two individuals. Brandon Ray Daniels, then 20 years old and a Erwin High School senior, was charged with capital murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Marcus Alexander, a Pinson Valley High School junior.
Former Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Phil Hammonds said at the time that six sheriff’s deputies and six school administrators had provided security at the game. He said every precaution had been taken to ensure the safety of the students.
The schools decided not to renew the series.
After a short break from the rivalry, Pinson Valley head basketball coach Clint Argo, the head man since the 2010-2011 season, and others, convinced the principal that Center Point needed to be placed back on the schedule. The belief was “that incident was over with, let’s renew the rivalry,” Argo said.
“It’s kind of like an old and new rivalry because they had a stretch that we didn’t play them so now that their in our area, it’s kind of back again,” Argo said.
Pinson Valley and Center Point are both in Class 5A, Area 11. Center Point defeated the Indians 64-42 on Dec. 10.
On Jan. 26, 2010, Center Point took the floor at Mike Dutton Gymnasium for the first time since that unforgettable Friday. Pinson Valley won the contest 63-48, giving the team its third straight win over the Eagles that season.
Much more important than the win was the step both programs made that emotional night. It was time not to forget, but to remember the past to improve the future.
Both teams landed in the same area the following season after the Indians returned to Class 5A. The rivalry was back and this time it was for the right reasons, so players could play the game they love against old friends, so moms and dads could watch their kids compete for championships against their neighbors.
If you look past the clashing colors, you’ll see that the players from both sides have a lot in common. Some live in the same neighborhoods, hear the same Sunday sermon and play on the same AAU teams.
“These guys know each other. I mean, the way Center Point and Pinson are located some neighborhoods have one street that is (zoned for) Center Point and the next street over is Pinson so they all hang out with each other and know each other from the neighborhood,” Argo said. “It all depends on which school bus you get on.”
Since becoming area rivals, one of the two teams has claimed the area championship each year. Pinson Valley hoisted the area tournament championship trophy last season after clipping the Eagles 57-56 in an epic title game. Center Point then went on to advance to the state championship game, which it lost to Wenonah.
“The way the area has been the last couple years, it’s been either us or Center Point winning the area,” Argo said. “Center Point won it two years ago, we won it last year so it’s kind of been back and forth with us.”
The Eagles own a slight advantage in the series since 2009, as they have come away on top in eight of the 14 meetings. However, the Indians have struggled lately, winning only three of the last 11 clashes.
But there is something about postseason play that makes Pinson Valley a much tougher target for Center Point. Two of those three wins came in the area tournament. This year’s area tournament is scheduled for Feb. 7-10.
As the feud moves forward Friday with a 7:30 p.m. game at Mike Dutton Gymnasium, Argo realizes that his team’s mindset must change in order to take back the momentum.
“It’s not that we’re bad basketball players and they’re better than us,” he said. “It’s just a mental thing.”
One of the first faces seen upon arrival at Pinson Valley High School is Lori Watwood, who is in charge of attendance. Watwood is a former Indian that describes the play of both teams as “spirited,” the very spirit that has revived this “respectful rivalry.”