MURRELL COLUMN: Championship run started 13 months ago, defined by post-Harvey resilience

Published 6:12 pm Saturday, March 17, 2018

Seeing his team leave the locker room following a victory over Humble on Feb. 27, Port Arthur Memorial boys basketball coach Kenneth Coleman was disgusted by the look on his players’ faces.

The faces were long, but not sad. The expressions told of another day at the office, another job well done, just the 22nd of 26 consecutive victories the Titans would win.

He summoned everyone back in the locker room and let his feelings be known, his words audible enough from some 60 feet away. Point guard Jamyus Jones could hear the passion in Coleman’s voice in the hallway as he honed in on a postgame interview.

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Coleman’s message was a stern warning to the Titans: Do not take these moments for granted. Message heard loud and clear.

The message Memorial delivered during the UIL 5A basketball playoffs was louder: Come heck or high water, the Titans were not to be denied a championship.

Almost a year to the day, that’s what happened at Coleman’s previous workplace, North Shore. Two free throws in the final seconds after a controversial foul call gave Fort Bend Marshall a 63-62 win. Marshall went all the way to the state final, losing to Mansfield Timberview.

“They took that game from us,” senior guard Darion Chatman said. “Coach Coleman told us, last year, after we lost, we knew we had a chance to go to state. We just had to believe in ourselves. We believed we could do it, so we did it.”

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A week has passed since the Titans finally won a championship, beating 2017 semifinalist Justin Northwest 75-69. Their victory was cause for a parade down Twin City Highway-becoming-Jefferson Drive on Saturday afternoon.

Their road to glory was never easy.

“We had different types of teams we had to play, we had injuries, and adjusting to all the adversity was pretty hard,” Chatman said.

Adversity wasn’t limited to the basketball court.

The state championship means so much to a city not just because it waited 23 years for another, or that it was denied a year ago.

It’s because 18 young men — most if not all still displaced from their homes thanks to Tropical Storm Harvey — did not let a 1,000-year disaster stop them. No team with greater height had an answer for Memorial’s relentless defense-turned-offense, masterful three-point shooting, inside physicality and just plain ol’ Texas true grit.

At an apartment complex where Chatman stays, four people have been shot since November, two fatally. The latest victim died Friday, a day before the parade.

Port Arthur had been hurting long enough since Harvey.

“After the state [title] game, coach Coleman said, you don’t expect kids to focus like this,” Chatman said. “After you move out your home, you lose family and loved ones — I lost classmates and relatives — you don’t expect kids to focus like this. For us to come out and do it every day, every game, it’s very good for the city.”

The basketball hardwood has always been an escape for the youths of this city. It’s the one place Harvey could not take away from the Titans.

So, they made the most of their escape.

“The group of guys we have, we were perfect for the job,” Chatman said. “We knew we could do it the whole time.”

And Dwight Scypion, 65, a lifelong Port Arthur resident and 27-year coaching veteran, witnessed the return of Texas basketball prominence to his hometown at a much-needed time.

“It means a great deal for this city because it’s so much talent that comes in and out of this place, and it’s about time we get a chance to recognize it,” said Scypion, one of the Titans’ assistant coaches. “By us winning that state championship at Memorial High School, that’s a great thing.”

This was not a season like any other, and on Saturday, a community lined up along Twin City Highway for a march of champions.

The message from the spectators was heard loud and clear: Thank you, Titans, for bringing joy to the city.

“These kids need something positive,” Scypion said. “It’s so much negative stuff going on here in PA, but this is a great thing.”

As was Coleman’s intention when he ordered jerseys with the words “Port Arthur” instead of “Memorial,” a community came together in San Antonio and in Port Arthur.

“Port Arthur deserves a reason to smile,” Chatman said, “so we just wanted to do it for them.”
It’s a message worth repeating.

I.C. Murrell can be reached at 721-2435 or at On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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