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Q&A with The Lady Mustangs’ #1 Fan

Mr. Ernest, you’ve been a staple at Mustang basketball games for years, and we are thrilled to be able to talk with you. So, how did it all start?
Well, I’m retired – I worked for Union Pacific railroad for 34 years. Years ago I went to church with a guy named Gary Kenley who had a daughter, Karli. She was on the team that won three championships in a row. So, I started going to their games in 2005 and they were just unbeatable. When Karli graduated I stopped going because I didn’t know any of the players.

 

What brought you back?
We had been attending Levy church of Christ since ’72, but my father died and every time my mother went to church she’d break out crying. So we decided we’d go to another church, and we went to Somers Avenue. I didn’t expect to start going to the games again, but I met Matt Miller and he told me his daughter, Falan Miller, was playing for the Mustangs.

I went to the first game, when she was a 9th grader, and she was just phenomenal. Her basketball IQ was like a senior’s IQ would be.

 

That was a long time ago – about eight years – why did you stick around?
The main reason I started watching basketball was those players. You know, if you watch boys play basketball, it’s all in the vertical – how high you can jump. Girls basketball isn’t like that. They are fearless. I’ve seen Kelson and Jenna and Christyn take on girls who outweigh them by 50 pounds.

And, well, I get the biggest kick out of it and I love them to death. They are my heroes. I mean, great day. LeBron James has nothing on them. I just get a big kick out of getting to know the players and watching them grow up and change.

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard that you didn’t miss a game this season, including away games and out-of-town tournaments. That’s some serious commitment.
I didn’t make all of the games back in the day, but this year I only missed one game. Lisa Academy. I just knew this was going to be their year and I didn’t want to miss it.

I even went all the way to Helena-West Helena and let me tell you, there is nothing out there. I couldn’t believe it. You go out to the school and there are fields as far as the eye can see and the school is just right in the middle of it. I mean, great day. I don’t know where they buy groceries.

You said you knew this was going to be their year. How did you know?
I figured this was going to be the year when I went to Collierville and they played Memphis Central, the toughest team in the whole city, and our girls just ate them up. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy to see that. We had been so frustrated for so long and to finally see it all come together is amazing.

 

This State Championship title has been a long time coming, and you’ve been there through it all. What was it like being a fan for all of those years, watching the girls come so close, but fall short?
It’s the pain and the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. There were a couple of times when it’s really been painful. When you see them put so much effort into something – you’re putting time and your physical bodies have been punished – you want to win.

And I’ll be honest with you, I wouldn’t commit to working as hard as they do, I can tell you that.

I think that’s one of the reasons I go. They are totally committed to one objective, and that’s to win a state championship. And that’s the reason I go. Because they give 110%, win, lose, or draw – it’s 110% all of the time. I couldn’t do it.

 

Sounds like you’re pretty fond of these girls.
It just breaks my heart that this team is leaving. They’ve been so fun to watch. And what’s really sad is that when this group graduates, their parents will stop coming to the games. I’m going to miss seeing them in the stands. We’ve been through a lot together.

But there are so many good players coming up, and see, I’m already hooked again. This whole bunch coming up – my goodness that’s going to be a good team.

 

I’m curious about something. You bring a lunch box full of candy (most notably Jolly Ranchers) to each game – in fact, you’re known for it. How did that start?
I got shamed into bringing candy. I brought candy to church around Christmas a couple of times. Well then, when I didn’t bring the candy anymore, a little boy named Lucas said, ‘I’m not mad I’m just disappointed.’ So I got shamed into bringing candy and now I bring it with me all of the time.

I started going to the football games because I would get bored waiting for basketball season to start, and I brought candy there too. It tickles me to death to see the little kids get so excited about just a small piece of candy.

See, it’s kind of sad. The girls on the team, they don’t eat candy anymore. After every game I used to give them candy, but most of them don’t eat it anymore because they’ve grown up.

You wear the same shirt to almost every basketball game. Where’d you get it?
Alexa Mashburn and the team made it and gave it to me. There’s even a picture of them on the back!

 

You mentioned that you think next year’s team will be good. Are you planning to continue coming to the games?
As long as I’m physically able, I’ll come. See, I’m about to be 69 years old. But as long as I can come, I’ll be there.