BY RICK WRIGHT –
Cossatot River High School Coach Wendell Cartwright says, “There is no place like home!” Coach Cartwright returned to his alma mater last year as the boy’s head basketball coach.
“I graduated from Wickes High School in 1989 and went to Southern Arkansas and graduated in 1994,” said Cartwright. “I coached five years at Bright Star High School, five years at Hatfield High School, then I was at Wickes High School for six years and then was the assistant coach at Eldorado High School for five years, where we won a state championship. This is my second year at Cossatot River High School.”
“I’ve really enjoyed being back so far,” said Cartwright. “This particular school, since they went together, has done a really good job in the way they’ve handled things. The kids and the parents have really jelled well. There hasn’t been a lot of issues you think of with two big rivals coming together. One of the things I think that helped that was the fact that before they built this campus, all the sports were mixed and played together. These guys played baseball together… ran track. I think the two or three years of the mix outside of basketball really helped the kids get to know each other… gave time for the parents to mingle. I don’t even hear or see any issues. It’s worked really well.”
Cossatot River High School is going into their fourth year and the campus is something to be proud of. “I like especially the gym part,” said Cartwright. “We are working toward getting a soccer field. From my understanding, the soccer field is going to be the first field to be worked on because we already have a baseball and a softball field we can use. There is no soccer field. We had to play all our home games at Mena. We practiced down there at the little field at Wickes some. When you have to take a bus to a home field game, it’s not quite a home game.”
The Cossatot River Eagle boy’s soccer team experienced extraordinary success last year. “Coach Patel did a good job with our soccer team last year. They made it all the way to the state semi- finals where Mena beat them one to nothing in what I thought was an extraordinary game,” said Cartwright. “It was soccer, one mistake and that’s all it takes!”
“The girls had the best year they’ve ever had in soccer as well. Our girl’s basketball team made the State Tournament. We have girls who made it to the state softball tournament and State Basketball tournament. Some of our girls moved up as freshman at the end of the season. They come in as sophomores this year with experience playing in State Softball and State Basketball Tournaments in the same year. In my opinion, that’s probably not happening everywhere,” said Cartwright. “That tells me we have a really good girls program here too, the soccer team is on the rise, the boys came just a play or two from going to the State Championship Soccer game and all without a facility.”
“We are going to be about the same as last year as far as numbers in boy’s basketball,” said Cartwright. “I think the girls side in basketball is going to be up in numbers. I think Coach Tyler Timms only had about 10 girls last year in junior high. In the eighth and ninth grade this year, he’s got nearly 20 girls out to play. We had a big seventh grade group of girls that are now eighth graders.”
“We’ve got a really strong senior boys basketball class, as far as their skill level and ability,” said Cartwright. “And as much as anything they are just great kids. They are a whole lot of fun to be around. We got beat in the Regional Basketball Tournament last year. I was pleased that we weren’t intimidated by any stretch of the imagination. Our biggest problem last year, and it could be again this year, depending on a couple of kids and how they respond, I believe we are a post man away from being good. Our guard play is outstanding and we shoot the ball really well. If we can get two people for sure and maybe a third to be difference makers in the post position, we could be really good.”
“We’ve had a lot of good participation in our summer workouts,” said Cartwright. “Several guys have gotten a lot better. If we can just get a little bit of rebounding in the post, keep people a little more honest where they can’t just overplay us and get out and crowd us. We are quick enough to get into the lane if we have someone to pass the ball to around the basket and just finish. That’s going to make a big difference in how good we are.”
The difference in being a smaller school than in the 3A and on up is you’ve got to have some balance.
“One of the things that’s really helped us, is starting last spring, Coach Brian Richardson took the weight lifting program over. I told him what I wanted to get done and came up with something and we started a lifting program. We’re on our fourth cycle. We go a month and test and so on. I told those guys that if you look at every team we got beat by, they were just more physical. They were stronger and a little more athletic. We’ve got to close that gap. We’re skilled enough, but we had to do something to make up that gap. We can’t grow taller, but we can get stronger. Those guys really attacked the weight room. Coach Richardson did a good job working with them in the spring and we carried it on through the summer and we’ve made tremendous gain in their maxed weight for each lift. I could tell this summer that we didn’t get pushed around as much, not just in the post, but on drives, if we got bumped it didn’t throw us off as much as before, we’re able to stay on our path to the goal. We’re going to continue that.”
“Last year in the fall, we did the cross-fit stuff, the battle ropes. We got a bunch of sledge hammers and tires. As we moved into the spring I was able to purchase about $1,500 dollars of plates and dumbbells. When I ordered the first set of dumbbells, before we got through our first cycle, the boys asked me for some more weights. I think it’s going to help a bunch. This will allow us to be more competitive in the future.”
“I am really proud of the fact that the guys have bought into this,” said Cartwright. “Once we did that first weight test after the first cycle, and tested again, they saw results.”
“I think it’s the Wizard of Oz theme, there’s just no place like home!” said Cartwright. “And there’s just not any place like home. Being around familiar folks, people that you grew up with, people that you’ve known all your life. I eat my mom’s cooking three or four days a week. My dad says their grocery bill has about doubled. Just being at home has been a blessing. I really enjoyed my time at Eldorado. Great people, outstanding athletes, but there’s just not any place like home.”