Tuesday, March 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils’ journey had family feel for Mimms

Leader sports editor

All coaches show at least a bit more excitement after winning a state championship than winning any other game. For Jacksonville girls basketball coach Katrina Mimms, the gamut of open emotions she showed as time ran down on her team’s state championship win over Paragould on Friday revealed something deeper than the excitement that accompanies such a feat.

In the waning moments of Friday’s victory, Mimms went back and forth between celebrating and coaching as she sensed victory was near, but still had some work left to do.

She could be seen lifting her arms in triumph, then coaching, running in place and coaching some more, to finally and stiffly jumping up and down in an alternative rock concert style as the clock expired and the buzzer sounded on the 54-43 win.

But there were two other, less frantic celebrations that tell the rest of the story. There was a brief moment of reflection when she paused to gaze at her championship ring from her playing days at Searcy High School. Then there was the embrace of several like-featured, brown-haired, similarly skin-toned men of similar age.

Those men are her four cousins who all reside in, and graduated from, Jacksonville, but they’ve been more than cousins for Katrina, a Searcy native.

They’ve been her brothers by proxy. Katrina’s real brother, Kevin Johnson, died in June of 2011 after suffering a stroke caused by a long battle with melanoma.

He had been the head football coach at Springdale High School after spending nearly 10 years as an assistant for Gus Malzahn at Shiloh Christian and Springdale.

Her four cousins, Jeff, Jason, John and Jeremy Johnson, were all present at the championship game. Jeff announced Jacksonville home games and Jason, a physical therapist, sat on the bench with the team during the tournament.

They were all involved in athletics at JHS, including being involved in state championship football and baseball teams in the 80s, while Kevin and Katrina were enjoying similar success at Searcy.

“They had all told me when Kevin died that I still had four brothers, and they’ve acted like it,” Mimms said. “Being the coach at Jacksonville and being able to have them all close by through everything has been a real blessing. The emotion of that was very emotional for me at the end of that game.”

Pausing to look at the ring she earned by winning a state championship as a Lady Lion was more than just pondering the journey that has come full circle with another title as a coach.

Mimms didn’t get that 1985 championship ring until August of 2010, as a gift from her ailing brother.

“It meant so much to me,” Mimms said with breaking voice and fighting back tears. “It was so thoughtful. He just thought I deserved to have it since I never got one back then.”

Kevin won several rings as a coach, and now he and his little sister have something else to share.