Brookland boys basketball coach and former Paducah Tilghman basketball star Bobby Gross can still scarcely believe what his team accomplished. In early March, his Bearcats won the last of 21 consecutive games: the Class 4A state championship.
Last week the Arkansas High School Coaches Association offered yet another reminder of his team's impressive accomplishment when they gave Gross the Lowell Manning Award. Each of the more than 3,000 members of the AHSCA had an opportunity to vote for a coach who won a boys championship in any sport in 2013-14.
"It's one of those things I was kind of in shock and it came out of the blue," Gross said. "It just validates all the hard work that not just I put in, but the team and all coaches involved. It validates our team and I kind of look at it as not my award. It's the team's award. It's like getting the group of the year in the state of Arkansas."
Gross took over Brookland in 2010 and spent the first two years building the program from a 4A-3 conference also-ran to a competitive member. In 2012-13 the Bearcats took the next step, winning 27 games and reaching the state semifinals before succumbing 39-34 to Pine Bluff Dollarway.
With this year's senior-laden roster, Brookland struggled to a 7-6 record against a strong schedule before catching fire and winning conference, district, regional and state titles.
"The teams we had to beat and the level of talent we had to beat is something I'll always be very proud of. ... We had to beat the best," Gross said. "You work for something so hard and so long and you still don't know if you're ever going to achieve it. To actually achieve it you sometimes can't believe it."
If their voting is any indication, the coaches around the state took notice.
"That's the greatest honor when you're picked by your peers," Gross said. "It's the greatest honor. The media picks a lot of things and it's all well and good, but when you're picked by your peers it's something else."