About nine months ago, during spring break from my senior year, my roommate and I decided to do something adventurous. Well, adventurous on a budget.
While other classmates headed for Cancun or Florida, we decided to load up in an old hatchback and make a trip to Tupelo, Miss. from Nashville. On the way down, we figured we'd stop in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and take the back roads and small towns to Tupelo. Then, we'd reverse direction and drive back to Nashville on the Natchez Trace the next day.
On the way down, I was Wikipedia-ing interesting facts about Tupelo when something caught my eye.
"Shit dude... You'll never guess..."
"Uh, some tacky Elvis stuff?"
"Well, yes... but Tupelo also has... a BUFFALO PARK."
That news was met with pure pedal-to-the-floor-board speed as we raced through Alabama to make it to the park before it closed.
We made it with about ten minutes to spare.
The park was nearly deserted -- apparently, early March wasn't a peak time for Buffalo viewers in Tupelo. But the owner kindly offered us a tour.
Our guide was a Mexican-American man who worked at the park. We rode up into a large field and stood in a cage-like structure as the giant beasts rushed us for food.
The Park was also a zoo and featured a bevy of lions, tigers, bears, and other species. But one of the main draws was Tukota -- a sacred White Buffalo.
According to the National Bison Association, only one of every 10 MILLION buffalo are born white. This was special.
We curiously asked our guide why Tukota was separate from the other buffalo.
"Because he is white and the other buffalo will try to kill him," he said. "They want to kill him, just because he is different. Just for being different, they want to kill him."
The re-emphasis was effective and those words stung. My heart sunk.
Enter Belmont hoops. Last week, I wrote about the not-so-friendly goodbye Belmont can look forward in the Atlantic Sun. This week, it's about the welcome Belmont will get from the Ohio Valley Conference.
You see, Belmont is the White Buffalo.
Yes, the growing, glossy private school will be entering a public school conference next season. It's not saying that Belmont is *better*, just different - and every team in the OVC will be looking to down them.
Heck, TSU didn't even wait until next year. They marched into the Curb Event Center on Tuesday night and matched Belmont hoop-for-hoop, dribble-for-dribble for about 35 minutes, without their leading scorer. (Kenny Moore is suspended indefinitely.)
TSU head coach John Cooper implemented an unusual stall-ball tactic in the second half which gave the Tigers a chance. In the end, though, Belmont guard Kerron Johnson carried Belmont on his back and the Bruins were able to stave off the cross-town attack.
As I sat there in the Curb, thinking about Belmont's move next year, my thoughts kept going back to Tukota.
While preparing to type up this entry, I Googled the Tupelo Buffalo Park to find some depressing news.
On Oct. 12, Tukota died from injuries sustained in a fight with another buffalo. He was 10 years old.
at BELMONT 75, TENNESSEE STATE 62 12/06/2011
TENNESSEE STATE 3-6 (0-0) -- J. Jones 5-14 2-2 12; P. Miller 6-10 2-2 17; W. Peters 4-10 1-2 10; K. Butcher 2-6 2-2 7; M. Rhett 3-5 2-3 8; R. Covington 5-10 0-1 11; J. Cyphers 2-9 0-0 5; K. Thornton 2-7 0-0 4; M. Bawa 0-1 0-0 0; T. Fredrick 0-0 0-0 0; M. Green 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-58 7-10 62. BELMONT 6-2 (2-0) -- I. Clark 6-13 0-0 14; J. Mann 4-10 0-2 11; K. Johnson 6-9 3-3 16; M. Hedgepeth 4-10 5-7 13; D. Hanlen 1-2 6-6 8; S. Saunders 3-4 4-4 10; B. Baker 0-0 0-0 0; A. Barnes 0-1 3-3 3; B. Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0; S. Turner 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 21-25 75.
Three-point goals: TSU 7-22 (W. Peters 1-4; K. Thornton 0-1; J. Cyphers 1-6; R. Covington 1-4; P. Miller 3-3; K. Butcher 1-4), BELM 6-20 (D. Hanlen 0-1; I. Clark 2-8; K. Johnson 1-3; J. Mann 3-7; S. Turner 0-1); Rebounds: TSU 29 (K. Thornton 7), BELM 33 (J. Mann 9); Assists: TSU 9 (P. Miller 3), BELM 13 (K. Johnson 5); Total Fouls -- TSU 22, BELM 17; Fouled Out: TSU-None; BELM-None.