On Aug. 9, 2005, it was official. The lives of the Rakestraw family were about to become drastically different.
A family deeply rooted in Siloam Springs, the Rakestraws saw their eldest son, Nate, receive approval to play basketball at Springdale Har-Ber, more than 20 miles away.
The transfer sent waves of criticism through Siloam Springs and around the area as to whether the move of one of the state's best basketball players was fair.
The 6-foot, 4-inch guard, was hyped as one of Northwest Arkansas' premier perimeter shooters. He had played summer AAU basketball with Har-Ber teammates Michael Sanchez and Aaron McHenry and also recently signed to play college basketball at the University of Arkansas.
At the time, he wanted a bigger challenge.
"I wanted to play in a bigger classification," Nate Rakestraw said. "I wanted to play against bigger and better competition. The facilities (at Har-Ber) are like what you would find at a college. They are some of the best in the state."
The Rakestraw family made no bones that Nate's transfer to Har-Ber was for basketball purposes. They were given several options after Nate had mulled over the idea of transferring in the spring and summer of 2005. The first was to claim the move was for academic reasons, which was quickly discarded. The Rakestraws could have moved into the Springdale district, leaving behind a long history in Siloam Springs.
The final option was to try for a direct transfer, appealing to the school boards of both districts, with both requiring a vote.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to go to (Har-Ber)," Nate said. "But I guess that is where God wanted me to be."
Also in the Rakestraw's favor was a series of events which aided the move, including a school choice option that made the move possible since, as a new school, Har-Ber was under capacity. Nate broke his wrist early in his sophomore season, sidelining him for the remainder of the year.
Siloam coach Kerwin Dees stepped down to focus on athletic director duties. And, Har-Ber was a new school built on the west side of Springdale, which would provide easier access from Siloam Springs.
"If they hadn't built the new school on the west side of town, I wouldn't have let Nate go there," said Jan Rakestraw, Nate's mother.
The Most Difficult Year
Nate worked out with the Har-Ber players throughout the summer before his junior season. He could be found, much like he would have been at Siloam Springs, in the gym taking jump shot after jump shot.
But the 2005-06 season wasn't an easy one.
Nate had to travel to and from Har-Ber just to go to school. At the same time, his family, Jan and father P.D., brother Coleson and sister Emery, were at home.
"Last year was the biggest challenge of our life," Jan Rakestraw said. "Nate was pulled out of his security and placed in another school. The family dynamics were stretched. Last year wasn't his best season and that didn't help."
The Wildcats went 14-14 last year, losing to Pine Bluff in the first round of the Class AAAAA state basketball tournament.
Nate averaged just 14 points per game while shooting under 30 percent from 3-point range.
The daily separation and lack of instant success began to weigh heavily on the Rakestraws. People kept talking.
"When you have a transfer come in, you are going to have some accept him and some not," Jan said. "We knew that when we came in there were pros and cons with how people reacted and what words were said. You realize you are not going to please everyone with what you do.
"I guess, living in Siloam Springs all our life we had been in a bubble. It was like stepping out into the real world."
In the months and year that followed the move, any animosity toward the Rakestraws died down. Nate and Coleson's junior high coach and current Siloam High coach, Jason McMahan, said the community generally supports Nate.
Har-Ber is now 6-3 as it enters a tournament in Texas after Christmas and Nate's statistics are blossoming. Nate is averaging 21.1 points per game and is shooting well above 40 percent from behind the arc.
"People were pretty understanding," said McMahan, who left Siloam after the 2004-05 season to coach in Oklahoma for one year. "I never really dealt with it that much.
"To this day, people are not upset with (Nate). They have supported him and are happy that he is going to play for the Razorbacks."
Basketball In The Blood
To the Rakestraws, basketball is not just a sport, it is an instinct. Both Jan and P.D. grew up playing basketball. Nate's brother Coleson is now a sophomore, playing for Siloam. Sister Emery is on the seventh-grade middle school team.
The interesting angle to all of this was if Nate had stayed at Siloam Springs, he and Coleson would have played together firing shots from behind the 3-point arc.
It would easily have been one of the best 3-point tandems in Northwest Arkansas.
"I think we would have been really good if (Nate) stayed (at Siloam Springs,)" Coleson said. "But that was an opportunity he couldn't pass up."
Nate's move to Springdale did spark Coleson to think about transferring too, but Har-Ber was beginning to fill to capacity and the school choice option was off the table.
"Yeah, I did (think about playing at Har-Ber,)" Coleson said. "...I like it here. But it is kind of weird for him to play over there."
When Nate was a freshman and Coleson was in seventh grade, the brothers did play together on the Panthers' junior high team for one year.
McMahan admittedly had assumed it would be that way down the road.
"That was always the plan. I'm a big planner for the future," McMahan said.
With Nate in Springdale and Coleson in Siloam Springs, both Jan and P.D. frequently break off into different directions to catch games during the week. Sometimes grandparents will make the out-of-town treks as well.
On the basketball court, Nate and Coleson have many similar abilities. Both have immaculate jump shooting form with the elbow tucked ever-so gently into the chest. Their follow through on their shots are smooth and effortless.
"He's a real good player," Nate said of Coleson. "His shot is amazing.
"My dad will be there and we would shoot in rotation. Sometimes we will play a game and get into it, but mainly we just shoot around."
Now that Nate and Coleson are not around each other as often as they used to be, Jan does like to see them interact when they can. She said they constantly ask about the other's games and how well they played.
"The boys are close," Jan said. "We have our time in the morning to connect and even though it is not your traditional family life, I can honestly say it is going pretty well.
"What I miss the most is on game day. They usually don't practice and if Nate was in Siloam Springs he would come home. Now, he's going to Michael's (Sanchez) or P.J.'s (Shannon). But I don't think our family has suffered in any way."
Meet The Rakestraws
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