Above: Tushka basketball team in Atoka, Southside. Front row, left to right, Lex Simon, Hayden Griffin, Austin Self, Cole Simpson, Bryson Tuck, assistant coach Tracey Griffin. Back row, left to right, Pastor Chris McDaniel, Student Pastor Matt McIninch, Fisher Hurt, Tagen Simon, Hunter Wolfe, Landon Griffin, Statistician Timothy McIninch. Not pictured but were present: Peyton Bailey, Ryan Vessels, Walt Kerr. Photo by Angel Hauff on Facebook.
ATOKA—March Madness has already begun in Oklahoma. On Saturday, March 5, Tushka High School defeated Garber, 48-43, to win the Class A men’s basketball title at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.
Tushka is the first unranked team in state history to claim the state title. As reported by Oklahoma Cameron JourdanTushka finished the season on an 11-game winning streak and picked up victories over high-ranking opponents including No. 5 Arapaho-Butler, No. 1 and defending state champion Hydro-Eakly, and then the No. 2 Garber.
The story looks like the movie Hoosiers, Tushka being a team that wasn’t supposed to make so much noise in the state tournament. Chris McDaniel, pastor of Atoka, Southside, explained that there is an even bigger story involving spiritual progress.
McDaniel said many of those players had made a “complete 180 shift” from what they were before. Some had a reputation for not showing Christ-like examples, but progress has begun in 2020, even amid the COVID pandemic.
Although the statewide youth summer camp was not held at the Falls Creek Conference Center that year, McDaniel said the church had its own camp experience at Falls Creek. He believes that spiritual seeds were planted that year.
Last summer built on this 2020 camp time. Southside brought 80 people to Falls Creek with 25 campers making spiritual decisions, 21 of which were professions of faith in Christ or following believers’ baptism. A lot of those who made those decisions were Tushka basketball players, and it grew from there.
“It’s amazing how they take their faith with them,” McDaniel said. “There has been genuine repentance, and they are regularly involved in Bible study and in church every Sunday.”
That includes being at Southside for Sunday worship the next day after winning the state title.
“These boys could have stayed at OKC last night to celebrate,” Angel Hauff wrote on Facebook of the Tushka players, “or after getting home at 1:30 this morning they could have slept. I know that they are physically exhausted! These boys said no, we are coming home because we are going to be at church in the morning! They have a love for God that is a testimony in itself. Great leaders, role models and champions of state all in one!!!”
Four starters from the team attend Southside, including Cole Simpson, Tagen Simon, Lex Simon and Bryson Tuck. The other starter, Jeffrey Mackey, attends Madill, Little City, where his father Cecil Mackey is a pastor.
“It’s their habit,” McDaniel said of the boys who faithfully attend church, as well as other discipleship programs.
Randy Hurt, missions director for the Atoka-Coal Association, agreed with McDaniel about the spiritual growth Tushka players have shown. His son, Fisher, is a member of the team, and Hurt is involved in sharing devotions with the team before each home game.
“I agree with Chris (McDaniel). Since last summer they’ve been ‘all-in’,” Hurt said of the team’s spiritual growth. school known as Tigers for Christ, and all are officers of the club.”
McDaniel credited Southside youth pastor Matt McIninch with disciplining and encouraging the young men, as well as Southside’s many students. McIninch also runs Tushka’s home game scoreboard, and his brother Timothy is the team’s statistician.
Assistant Coach Tracey Griffin is a member of Southside and Head Coach Chris Zike is a member of Atoka, Harmony. Many Oklahoma Baptists have been involved with this team, not only successfully on the basketball court, but in the spiritual lives of the students.
“It’s great to see them transition (their Christian faith) from church to school to gymnasium,” McDaniel said.
And Tushka also took him to the “Big House”, the nickname of State Fair Arena, where their success on this ground could see even more success in advancing the gospel.