Roy Hardy Jr. is another freshly graduated high school athlete who will be representing his alma mater — Hillcrest — for the final time this weekend.
And after this weekend’s Lions Club All-Star Basketball Classic, Austin Essick of Billings also is hanging up the basketball shoes — at least competitively, and at least for a year.
The area standouts are two of the stories for Saturday’s 36th annual playing of the games, which begin at 6:30 p.m. with the girls, with the boys to follow at Baptist Bible College.
“I don’t want to get all (emotional) about it, but it’s a little sentimental,” said Hardy, who helped Hillcrest to the Class 4 state finals as a junior and the Ozark Conference title his senior year. “Just because I’m not playing in college, doesn’t mean I won’t keep up and play basketball, but it’s my last organized, reffed game. Maybe at the end of it, it’ll get a little emotional, but it’ll be fun.”
The games benefit the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation, raising $4,650 last year to bring the 35-year total to $202,781, according to game organizer Bob Crump.
Hardy is going to Drury University to study finance and accounting. He’ll be paired with two Hillcrest teammates, along with players from Greenwood, Kickapoo, Parkview and Catholic, playing for Parkview coach Bill Brown.
Hardy said Wednesday’s practice went well, and Brown didn’t infuse Parkview’s signature deliberate offense into the mix for what should be a fast-paced game.
“Thank God he didn’t make us run that slow-paced offense they run,” he joked.
Essick, the all-state guard who led Billings to a Class 2 state championship as a junior, will be among the Area standouts.
He’ll be staying local for school, studying to be an auto mechanic at Ozarks Technical Community College. After a year, Essick said, he may resume his athletic career, currently favoring basketball over baseball, where he tied the state’s career home-run mark (43) in his final at bat in a Class 2 quarterfinal loss.
“I’m leaning more toward (college basketball), but I’m not really for sure,” Essick said. “Whenever the time comes, that’s when I’ll make my decision.”
Essick said he’s been playing “old man ball” at “The Barn,” a pickup gym in a barn near the border of Republic and Billings where a handful of former high school players stay in shape.
He said he’s looking forward to teaming with area standouts such as Nixa’s Jalen Norman and Austin Ruder, along with Republic’s Jake Fletcher, on Saturday.
“We’ve got the top players in the area in southwest Missouri, and it’s going to be definitely competitive,” Essick said.
The Lions Club series has been evenly matched, with the Area leading the overall series, 19-16.
The Area will be heavy favorites in the girls’ game, looking to add to its 22-11 series lead.
The Area will have a first team All-Ozarks player in Alice Heinzler, in addition to second-teamers Maggie McMenamy of Crane, Jeana Raper of Nixa and Ozark’s Haylee Beard.