Former player sets early tone to Northside’s basketball legacy.
In rare moments of down time, longtime Fort Smith Northside girls basketball coach Rickey Smith allows his mind to wander a bit.
The spells of clarity are often reminders of how talent-rich his Lady Bears rosters have been in 23 years at the school. Smith’s teams have made four consecutive state finals appearances an unprecedented two times. And out of the first run of championships from 1999-2002 came Tamika Kursh, the program’s most heralded player.
Kursh earned McDonald’s All-American Game honors in 2002 and traveled to play in Madison Square Garden, her first big trip without her mother by her side. That season, she led Northside (29-1) to its fourth straight state championship and a No. 3 ranking in the USA Today
Super 25 — still the highest ranking of any team in Arkansas. The Lady Bears’ lone loss came to Lynwood, Calif., the No. 1 team in the nation by USA Today.
Even now, 15 years removed from the 2002 run, those accomplishments remain fresh on her mind.
“It’s amazing to be a part of history and to share it with teammates you really care about. I do still think about it,” she said. “We knew how good of a team
we were. We basically broke every record and every barrier one can set. We set the tone and followed the lead from the girls before us.”
In three years, Kursh’s Lady Bears won 84 games and dropped a game in 5A-West Conference play just once. Her final game in a Lady Bears uniform was one to remember, too, as Kursh scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. But if Smith was asked about it, Kursh’s mystique was born years before.
“Her sophomore year, we’re playing West Memphis in the state semifinals and we’re losing,” Smith said. “Running down the floor, I see Tamika point to her chest and I’m thinking she wants to come out. But during a dead ball, she comes over to me and says, ‘Get me the ball.’ She scored something like 10 of our final 12 points.
“I looked at coach [Scott] Thompson with a big smile and said, ‘We’ve got her for two more years.’”
These days, the now-Tamika Williams is happily married — five years on June 22 — to Ted Williams, an engineer, and mother to 3-year-old daughter Tayden, who has taken a liking to soccer. Williams lives in the Dallas area, teaching physical education to sixththrough eighth-graders and coaching volleyball, track and basketball at DeWitt Perry Middle School.
“I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” she said. “I like the middle school level way better. Just to see them progress from not knowing anything about basketball to growing is special.”
Williams says she remains in constant contact with many of her former teammates. Tandem Mays, a slasher-type guard who played from 2001-03 and now an assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Nebraska, Ashley Coleman, Chivis Merriweather and others are part of a group Facebook chat.
“We talk all day throughout the day just about random things,” said Williams, who kept up with Northside’s girls in the 2017 state tournament through a live stream passed along in the chat. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group.”
The former stars do their best to meet up twice each year, and even host Christmas parties in Fort Smith.
Williams also passed along heady advice to the current cast of Lady Bears, which Smith believes could become a memorable bunch.
“Hopefully they’re getting out and playing ball in the summer and keeping their heads straight and grades up because you can’t play with no grades,” she said.
“That was the thing about our group, we pushed each other. We didn’t let that one person get out of line. We held each other together.”
Tamika Kursh (45, now Williams) of Fort Smith Northside (center) drives to the basket through a West Memphis defender during the 2002 Class 5A state girls basketball championship game in Pine Bluff.
Tamika Williams (Kursh, left), who led the Northside Lady Bears basketball program to three consecutive state championships from 2000-02, has a 3-year-old daughter, Tayden (center) and husband of five years, Ted.