Win or Lose, Pine Bluff Zebras Gave Fans Season to Remember
Coach Micheal Williams says community support makes a difference in sports
That's the word Pine Bluff Zebras Coach Micheal Williams used to describe his second football season with the Zebras.
The first Zebra game started with misfires from the time the team's bus left for Mississippi and had problems. Wins, losses then the Mills fiasco in October where 23 Zebra players were suspended by the Arkansas Activities Association after a post-game altercation with Mills University Studies.
But now the Zebras, the 5A Central champion, are in the second round of the state playoffs. The Zebras (9-2) host Hot Springs Lakeside at Jordan Stadium in Pine Bluff at 7 p.m. tonight.
Win or lose, the Zebras and Williams have brought together the community of Pine Bluff. Consider the Zebras the NFL team of the city. Every Friday night fans gather to watch players like Courtney Crutchfield – the number one recruit in Arkansas who currently holds about 21 D1 offers – and Austyn Dendy who recently committed to the University of Missouri. Quarterback Landon Holcomb is on recruiters’ radars as are other players like Marquez Bentley, Jr., Chandler Blunt, Makyrin Goodwin, to name only a few. Fans have also fallen in love with kicker Maclain Heisler.
“We have brought the community out,” Williams said. “We've included the community in activities and we've invited them in.”
Williams became the Zebras head coach in the summer of 2022. He moved home to Pine Bluff from Texas because he felt it was his calling. In just two seasons he's turned around the football program into a winner.
But it goes far beyond the field.
Williams moved practices to early mornings so players can finish homework and receive tutoring in the afternoons. He's developed a character development program that brings in speakers to inspire players. He has stressed academics over winning because he knows not every player is going to land in the NFL or even a D1 school. Every player needs a Plan B in life.
And this is high school. Not professional sports.
“These are kids,” he said recently in his office. “People forget that. They deal with a lot of stuff, and you have to remember that not just on Friday night.”
Knowing that families play a big role in a winning team, Williams invited parents into the locker room. Throughout the seasons Zebra Moms have decorated lockers with gift bags, pictures and snacks to inspire the players.
“The Zebra Mom Squad is ecstatic for the opportunity to celebrate, motivate and encourage our players through our ‘locker room blessings’,” Daisha Thompson, Holcomb's mom, said. “We are moreover grateful to Coach Williams for allowing us to do so!”
The community – churches, organizations and alums – donates food for post-game dinner whether the Zebras win or lose. They are family, and fellowship is important.
Even on Friday night, Williams’ dad broadcasts the games on his Facebook page for fans who can't make it out to cheer the Zebras in person.
Williams knows that the Zebras may not have the fanciest facilities in the state or even a big indoor facility like other schools. But he does know that his team and its fans have the biggest hearts.
“Facilities don't win games, players do,” he said “You have grit and the will to win. That means practicing in all kinds of weather from heat to rain to cold. That kind of determination comes from inside a player.”