A future Arkansas baseball player was at the center of the state championship ring controversy at Bryant High a couple of weeks ago.
Gideon Motes, a left-handed pitcher in the Razorbacks’ 2024 class, came off the bench and provided a spark the Hornets needed to win the Arkansas Class 7A state championship last December. With him leading the offense at quarterback, Bryant scored 36 straight points and cruised to a 36-7 win over Bentonville at War Memorial Stadium.
Finishing with 250 yards of offense and four touchdown passes, Motes was named the MVP of the state championship — Bryant’s record-breaking fifth straight title.
At the school’s state championship ring ceremony late last month, though, the junior was nowhere to be found. He and his younger brother — Jeremiah, a freshman — stayed home after their mother, Traci Motes, found out neither of her boys would be receiving a ring.
Both had decided to stop playing football after the season in order to focus on baseball and head coach Buck James has a policy against giving rings to players he deemed to have quit the team.
When Traci Motes learned of the policy less than a week before the ceremony and James wouldn’t budge on his stance, she took to Facebook and Twitter to voice her frustration.
“Usually I don’t go to social media,” Motes said. “I just post something every once in a while, that’s it. But I just did it because I felt like I couldn’t get any attention (otherwise).”
Those posts went viral and the controversy took on new life when, just a few days later, James left Bryant to take the head coaching job at conference rival Conway — a move that sent shockwaves through Arkansas high school football.
James has since addressed his ring policy in a radio interview, but Best of Arkansas Sports also reached out to Traci Motes to get more insight on the situation — and resolution.
Origin of the Controversy at Bryant High
It was the Friday before the ceremony at Bryant High when Traci Motes first caught wind of the possibility of her sons not receiving rings.
Rather than just rely on rumors, she went straight to the source for confirmation. When Buck James responded to her email by informing her that it was true and had been his policy for five years, Motes was initially upset, but composed herself and sent a long response.
She understood Jeremiah not getting a ring. After all, he was a freshman and didn’t get called up to the varsity team until after the ninth-grade season ended. He didn’t really contribute much, so she was willing to concede that.
What Motes had a hard time accepting her older son not getting a ring. Having won the Top Gun Award at last June’s Shootout of the South 7-on-7 tournament, which he helped Bryant win, Gideon Motes was primed to take over as the program’s third starting quarterback in as many years.
Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury in the Hornets’ preseason scrimmage against Pulaski Academy. Then, in just his second game back from the AC separation, Motes went down with a concussion. When he got healthy, he served as Bryant’s “1-B” option alongside starter Jordan Walker, a sophomore.
After three scoreless series and trailing 7-0 in the championship game, James inserted Motes at quarterback and ended up riding him to the finish. Despite the injuries and being the backup, Motes stuck with it and delivered on the biggest stage.
Traci Motes laid all of that out in her email to James a couple days before the ceremony and asked if he would at least talk it over with the athletic department, but never heard back. When she found out that the athletic department had no say in the matter and that it was the coach’s decision, she resorted to the court of public opinion via social media.
Buck James’ Ring Policy
Shortly after his shocking move from Bryant to Conway, Buck James did an interview on The Zone, 103.7 The Buzz’s midday sports talk radio show, to discuss his decision.
During that interview last week, host Justin Acri asked him about the ring controversy and James provided some insight on his policy.
“We had the same policy we’ve had for five years,” James said. “All we ask is for parents and kids to come and talk to us and discuss what’s going on and let us know. If they don’t do that, then they quit the wrong way. That’s really the nutshell of it.
“Nowadays, everything wants to be handled on social media and emails and text messages. Nobody wants to have a face-to-face conversation. That’s nothing we haven’t done for the last five years. We’ve never had anybody gripe or complain because they knew where we stood. We talked about it in parent meetings, we talked about it in player meetings. It’s understood by everybody.”
James also added that there were about 10 players who finished the season, decided to leave the program, had a conversation with the coaches and received their championship ring.
According to Traci Motes, there were four players — including her sons — who didn’t get a ring after chosing to focus on baseball next season. She also said he was unaware of the policy, despite having an older son who played football at Bryant, as well.
“Not only was I not aware of this policy, but he said he had told it in parent meetings and stuff like that,” Motes said. “It was not. Gideon has an older brother. I’ve had kids in the football program for seven years and knew nothing about it.”
On top of that, Traci Motes said Gideon actually discussed his decision with new offensive coordinator Julian Jones about a month ago. She took exception to the term “quit” when discussing the nature of his departure, as well.
“Gideon didn’t quit,” Motes said. “That was my whole thing. My boys did not quit. Both of them finished out the season, they got a final grade, they turned in their equipment, they got released from football to play baseball.”
Another Twist to the Story
There was already growing support for Gideon Motes as Memorial Day approached, but it went to another level when it was revealed that Buck James also wouldn’t be with the Bryant football program next season.
Last Tuesday, James was announced as the next head coach at Conway High School, a 7A Central rival that the Hornets knocked out of the playoffs two of the last three years.
Not only was it a seismic change for Arkansas high school football, but it also naturally raised questions about double-standards regarding the ring controversy still fresh on the minds of fans.
Whether or not that had anything to do with it, James has apparently backed off his stance.
Traci Motes didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but she told Best of Arkansas Sports that Gideon had recently received a phone call to inform him that he would, in fact, receive his state championship ring. He was told that it was one of James’ last requests before officially leaving for Conway.
Despite it causing an uproar on social media, Gideon Motes was never too concerned about the situation himself, but his mother chose not to just act on his behalf, but also those before him and his fellow teammates.
“He has not liked being the center of attention,” Traci Motes said. “He said, ‘Mom, please don’t make a scene.’ He said, ‘I really don’t care. By this point, I don’t even care about that ring. I’ve got the MVP trophy, I don’t need a ring, too.’
“I told him, ‘Son, this isn’t just about you.’ He told me that he’s been doing this for five years. What about the other five years worth of kids that didn’t get rings that deserved them?”
Motes also made it a point to mention several times that she wished Buck James and his wife, Jennifer, the best of luck at Conway and that she is not taking a victory lap after his departure from Bryant.
Gideon Motes and Arkansas Baseball
Although he is a right-handed quarterback, Gideon Motes is a southpaw on the diamond.
He committed to Arkansas baseball in January of his sophomore year and could join what is a long line of pitchers from Bryant playing for the Razorbacks — a list that includes the likes of Trent Daniel, Blaine Knight, Evan Lee, Will McEntire and Austin Ledbetter.
As a junior this past season, Motes earned All-State accolades after posting a 2.13 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 56 innings for Bryant.
This summer, he’s playing with the Arkansas Sticks travel ball organization on their Chicago White Sox Scout Team. His coach is Chase Brewster, who has coached numerous former, current and future Razorbacks with the Sticks over the last several years.
“Gideon does some things naturally that you cannot teach,” Brewster told Best of Arkansas Sports. “He’s a phenomenal leader, he’s left handed, and he’s big and strong. He has some flaws like everyone, but when his confidence is high and when he’s in the zone, he’s as good as anyone in the country.”
2024 LHP Gideon Motes@gideon3motes | @WhiteSoxScout | @RazorbackBSB | @PBR_Arkansas— PBR Georgia (@PBRGeorgia) June 3, 2023
6-foot-3, 200 pounds
Filthy lefty with a nasty curveball. Allowed 2 hits in his outing. #PBRShowdown23 pic.twitter.com/1plu8XEM0V
As a two-sport athlete, there were times last summer when he had to drive as much as 10 hours each weekend to get to baseball events and back to Bryant for football workouts.
Moving forward, Motes won’t have that issue, as he decided to focus solely on his baseball career — a decision that he didn’t take lightly.
“He loves baseball, but he loves football,” Traci Motes said. “I said, ‘Son, you can probably have a future in either one, but at night, when you lay down in bed and it’s between seasons, what do you dream about?’ His dream was MLB, it wasn’t NFL.”
Despite juggling the two sports and playing up an age group, he won all five of his starts with the Sticks last summer. That made an impression on Brewster.
“Gideon was such a leader,” Brewster said. “Even when the ring news broke and everyone was up in arms, he told me he didn’t need a ring because he had the MVP trophy and that was good enough for him.
“It’s rare when a 17-year-old kid is the smartest adult in the room. He’s got a great head on his shoulders, and he’ll be successful in life long after professional baseball.”
Check out this video of Arkansas baseball commit Gideon Motes and his recovery from injury:
Here’s an in-depth look at what’s in store for the Arkansas baseball program this offseason:
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