By John R. Schirmer
Four Nashville High School seniors signed letters-of-intent with Arkansas colleges last week.
The first was Sidney Townsend, who signed a basketball letter with National Park College in Hot Springs April 26.
The others signed April 29, including Cameri Smith, Arkansas State, cheerleading; Jackson Manlove, Arkansas State, band; and Taylor Darling, Arkansas Tech, cheerleading.
Athletic Director James “Bunch” Nichols introduced Townsend at her ceremony in the high school cafeteria.
“It’s another special day. Another one of our own is going on to play at the next level,” Nichols said. “You can’t go wrong with Sidney Townsend. I see some of her family in the audience. I taught some of them and coached some. They’re why she’s in the spot she’s in today. I can remember this young lady growing up. There was always a basketball somewhere nearby.”
Townsend will long be remembered for the “final shot that won Nashville’s first state championship in basketball. I’ll remember it the rest of my life,” Nichols said.
Townsend nailed a 3-point shot with 3.3 seconds left in the state championship game March 12 at Hot Springs, securing a 42-41 win over Farmington.
Nichols said that Townsend told him later, “I knew it was in” as soon as she released the ball.
“She’s the best definition of ‘team,’” Nichols said. “National Park is getting a great basketball player, a great student and a great person.”
Coach Paul Dean said Townsend is “A great young lady. She will be successful. Some people are book smart; some are street smart. She has a good balance of both. She just does what she needs to do.”
Dean described Townsend as “a natural leader. She’s charismatic. Kids and adults both look to her. She’s a great person with high character and high morals. She’s just a great one.”
Townsend and her teammates “started something at NHS. A lot of little kids at primary know who Sidney Townsend is. Someday they will understand the impact she made and want to be the next Sidney Townsend,” Dean said.
Townsend said National Park “is an improving program. I’d like to be part of it.” The school plays in the conference with UA-Cossatot, giving fans the opportunity to see Townsend play once at the Lockesburg Gym when they meet next season.
NPC Coach Dominique Battles said he saw Townsend play at the Spa City Classic earlier in her career and began keeping up with her before he signed on as the Nighthawk’s coach. “She plays hard. She’s a floor general. She’s the first recruit I went after” when he was hired at NPC.
“I followed her career to the state finals. She’s perfect for what we’re looking to do. I can’t wait to put her to work and see how she adjusts. I hope she’s a knock-down shooter.”
Battles coached at Jonesboro before moving to Hot Springs.
Nichols presented the traditional signing day pen to Townsend with “Once a Scrapper” on the case and “Always a Scrapper” on the pen.
The next round of signings occurred three days later, again at the NHS cafeteria.
Principal Tate Gordon introduced the signees.
Band Director Cody Ford reviewed some of the highlights of Manlove’s career at NHS. “He’s made All-Region choir. He’s top chair at region in tuba. He made the All-State band and is the first Nashville student in history to make the National Honor Band.”
Cheer Coach Erin Askew said Smith is a five-year cheerleader, including “three years with me. She’s a five-year NCA All-American, All-State and All-Star, NCA Top Gun.”
Smith has been a co-captain her senior year. “I can’t say enough great things for Cameri. All five years she’s stepped up.”
Askew said 2021-22 “has been a very good year for Nashville cheer” as the cheerleaders were state Class 4A runners-up and NCA national champions.
“I’m so proud Cameri is signing with Arkansas State. She’s going to rock it up there,” Askew said.
Darling’s cheerleading journey was different from Smith’s and included only two years on the squad. “To see her go from where she was to today’s signing makes me proud,” Askew said. “She’s gone from being a new member on the squad to being one or our better cheerleaders. She’s very meticulous. She gives it 110 percent. She’s one of the best flyers I’ve coached. Last year, she was a rising Scrapper Star. She’s done so much.”
Darling was named NCA All-Star and NCA Cheer team. “She’s just soared. Arkansas Tech doesn’t know what’s going to hit them when she gets to campus,” Askew said.
Gordon wrapped up the ceremony, saying he is “proud of each of you” who signed. “It’s a great day and a great moment for you, your parents and coaches.”