Three Mountain Pine students will continue their athletic careers on the collegiate level--and they won't have to go far to do it.
On Friday, in the largest signing day in school history, Mountain Pine seniors Tyler Zander, Dafavioun Haywood and Tanay Tash inked their future, signing to play college basketball at National Park College and Champion Christian College, respectively.
Tyler Zander signed with National Park College in Hot Springs and joins a Nighthawks squad that eagerly eyes its second year after the program's successful first season.
"It meant a lot to me," Zander said of signing day. "Growing up, I always dreamed about sitting at that table with my family around me and signing that letter. I've worked really hard to get to this point. I'm proud of myself and I want to thank everyone who has been with me through the whole grind."
Zander, who attended National Park College's open tryouts on April 7, said that his decision to join the Nighthawks was a no-brainer.
"I chose National Park College because it is close to home," Zander said. "It's close to my parents and my family. I went to their tryouts and felt an immediate bond there. Coach Hudnell opened up to me and I felt a connection with everyone there. I loved the school, the coaches and the players."
Continuing his basketball career is just one part of Zander's plan for the future. The senior also hopes to become an entrepreneur.
"I want to major in business management," Zander said. "I might pursue basketball overseas one day, but if that doesn't work out for me, I'd like to start my own clothing line one day."
Senior point guard Dafavoiun Haywood signed with Champion Christian College in Hot Springs, receiving a full scholarship to play basketball for the Tigers.
"It feels good," Haywood said of securing his future. "I've been doing this since I was five years old. Ever since my uncle passed, I have worked hard to get to where I am. It's been a hard year, but I've kept working hard. I'm doing what's best for me and everyone is happy for me."
Haywood cites family as an important factor in his college decision.
"Champion Christian College is right next to home," Haywood said. "I can stay here, do what I want to do and still get a good scholarship. I thought about it and chose the college because it was a full scholarship. It's hard for my family to pay for something like that. I'm on a full scholarship, who wouldn't take it?"
The talented Haywood had been pursued by the Tigers throughout Mountain Pine's landmark season, in which the Red Devils finished 26-6 with a perfect conference record en route to a Class 2A state tournament appearance.
"In the district tournament against Caddo Hills and Bearden, they came to our games to watch me," Haywood said. "I knew that they wanted me. It was nice to feel wanted."
As Zander and Haywood eye their new teams with anticipation, the two former teammates will now become cross-town rivals on the floor.
"It's going to be weird," Zander said on playing against Haywood. "I've played with him the past two years and I never thought we'd be on separate teams playing against each other. It's going to be cool having that match up with him."
"It's going to be great," Haywood said of the rivalry. "I'm waiting on it. We were always teammates and now we get to show the world what we can do against each other."
Senior Tanay Tash also signed to Champion Christian College in Hot Springs and should play a pivotal role in rebuilding its women's program this fall.
"Honestly, I didn't see myself playing sports again after high school," Tash said. "However, [Mountain Pine Head Coach Todd Willis] encouraged me to further my athletic abilities and further myself in the sport that I love."
Following the guidance of Coach Willis, Tash visited Champion Christian College and instantly fell in love.
"The girls at Champion seemed so welcoming," Tash said. "They have the same beliefs that I have and are a well-put-together school. The school is a good place for me because it's close to home."
Tash hopes her journey helps inspire young athletes looking to play college ball.
"Coming from a small school, I hope to encourage others and represent my school well," Tash said. "I would tell younger athletes to persist and never give up on their dreams."