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Gina Cox Center to host 4A state tourney

Lonoke basketball player Amanda Sexton is introduced as a starter prior to the Lady Jackrabbits’ game with Pine Bluff Dollarway on Tuesday. The Gina Cox Center, Lonoke’s new state-of-the-art facility, will be the site of the Class 4A state tournament in March. (Photo by Mark Buffalo)
Lonoke basketball player Amanda Sexton is introduced as a starter prior to the Lady Jackrabbits’ game with Pine Bluff Dollarway on Tuesday. The Gina Cox Center, Lonoke’s new state-of-the-art facility, will be the site of the Class 4A state tournament in March. (Photo by Mark Buffalo)

Lonoke’s Gina Cox Center will be the site of the Class 4A state basketball tournament March 5-8.

Lonoke was awarded the tournament during a meeting of the Arkansas Activities Center board of directors last week in North Little Rock.

Lonoke will also host the Class 4A East Region Tournaments for baseball and softball at the Lonoke Ball Park on May 9-12.

The Gina Cox Center and the old LHS gymnasium will be the sites of the Class 4A state volleyball this fall.

The state basketball tournament will include 24 teams from across the state playing for a spot in the finals at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

“There are really no other words other than exciting,” Lonoke athletic director and girls basketball coach Nathan Morris said Friday afternoon. “It’s going to be a lot of work but that is one of the reasons why this place was built. The people of Lonoke wanted it and I think they are ready for it. I think we’re going to see great support from the community.”

The Gina Cox Center opened in August. It is named after LHS alumnus Gina Cox Wieterlak, who along with her husband Jim, donated $1 million towards the cost of construction.

Morris said one of the keys to hosting a tournament of this magnitude is volunteers helping.

“I think the people are ready to do those volunteer hours,” Morris said.

This is the third state tournament hosted in Lonoke County since 2010. Carlisle’s Bison Arena hosted the Class 2A tournament in 2010; Cabot’s Panther Arena hosted the Class 7A tournament in 2012.

Morris said the Goldfish Classic, an invitational tournament, was held last month at the Gina Cox Center.

“We felt like we had great numbers in it and learned some stuff from that,” he said. “We’ve held other tournaments in the past at a smaller level. I think the complexity of a hospitality room will be one of the keys. The logistics of the visiting teams will be big, getting them into practice facilities, getting them in and out of the arena in a quick way, but also at the end of the day, there are teams that are going to end their seasons here or their careers here in this building.

“Being sympathetic to their needs and not hurrying them through, being a great host is a great key.”

Morris said this is about the players playing in the tournament.

“Hopefully, we are playing in it but it’s the other 24 sets of ball teams playing in it,” he said. “It’s going to be their memories for a lifetime.”

Morris said his team’s played in state tournaments at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, Bald Knob High School and Dumas, where they went to Hot Springs to play in the state finals; his last state tournament team in 2010 lost to Prairie Grove in the semifinals at Highland High School.

“Those are all memories like I want kids from around the state to have about Lonoke when they leave here,” Morris said.

The Gina Cox Center has more than 1,000 chairback seats. The arena seats just over 2,000.

“We have a 300-seat cafeteria connected to the arena so no one has to walk outside to the hospitality room,” Morris said. “We are connected to a gym where cheerleaders can warm up; teams can come here and practice. So there is no walking in the elements to go there.”

Morris said the audio/visual room will serve as a media workroom. Tables can also be lined along the sidelines opposite the team benches for working media.

“To top it all off, there’s not a bad seat in the house,” Morris said. “I’ve tried to sit in most areas and there are no line-of-site problems whatsoever from any of the corners that you have at other venues.”

Morris said if people want to help with the tournament to contact him or the Lonoke School District Central Office at 676-2042.

“We will put anyone to work who wants to volunteer their time,” he said.

The only other state tournament in central Arkansas is Class 7A, which will be held at Conway’s Buzz Bolding Arena. Other sites are: Jonesboro, Class 6A; Alma, Class 5A; Charleston, Class 3A; Hampton, Class 2A and North Arkansas Community College, Harrison, Class 1A.

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