Bandwagons, Believing and Broken Dreams

Burning-Match -derek-GaveyMonday Morning Match is a post – maybe a quote, inspirational story or idea – intended to spark some motivation inside each of you so your week gets off to a fantastic start on Monday morning.

All Aboard

I’ll be the first one to admit it; I was a bandwagon fan this year. The Upper Arlington High School boy’s basketball team was having an amazing season and not many people were even paying attention. I didn’t watch them play until the Regional Finals. It was my first high school basketball game since I attended UAHS and graduated in 1985. That’s 29 years between attending games to watch the Golden Bears play hoops.

They won their 25th game in a row over the very talented and higher ranked Northland Vikings and were headed to play at The Ohio State University for a chance at the Division-I title in a game that would be played just 2 miles from the high school gymnasium that displays all the various state championships the school has earned. The sole boy’s basketball title on that wall? 1937.

We Are…UA

So what made me and my family along with many of the residents of Upper Arlington fall in love with this team as they continued to win? Maybe it was the fact that they hadn’t earned a spot in the state “Final Four” in 75 years? Perhaps it was the fact that they hadn’t won a state title since FDR was in office? Or was it the fact that the college version of March Madness was already in full force and after the local Buckeyes got bumped in the 2nd round, people just wanted to cheer for more local basketball teams?

All those reasons are possible but I’m thinking it was the overly infectious nature of these boys that just made people want to see them succeed. Coached by UAHS grad Tim Casey and led by talented seniors Kevin Vanatta, Danny Hummer, Wes Davis, Harrison Heath & Logan Richter this team was just the kind of kids you enjoy rooting for. It didn’t matter that they weren’t your sons or that you didn’t even know them. All that mattered was they were talented individuals who knew that playing together as a team, they could accomplish something awesome. In this case, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.

Basketball isn’t an individual game, it’s a team sport and these boys epitomized the word “team.” They weren’t the tallest players in any game I watched and they probably weren’t the most skilled, but they each knew their role on the team and certainly on the floor. They listened to their coaches, they played with each other but probably more importantly, they played FOR each other.

Davis and Hummer handled the ball while Vanatta did most of the scoring but every boy on that team could carry the weight and at some point in all three games I watched, they did. They took the shots they needed to take, the made the passes, chased down the loose balls and sacrificed their bodies when the game dictated.

Welcome to the Big Time

The city of UA certainly showed their support in the Golden Bears semi-final, 25-point dismantling of their opponent and the energy of that night would have been worth millions if it could have been captured and bottled up. You could have called it “Community Pride” or “Arlington Ale” but it would have been something that would have had every shark on Shark Tank wanting to partner with you.

Students chanted and danced, parents smiled and cheered and alumni and other supporters hugged and high-fived as they were waiting to exchange their tickets for the next night’s championship game. “Can you believe this team?” people asked. “Aren’t they something to watch?” queried others. “Is this really happening?” was on the minds of anyone who knows that Upper Arlington doesn’t produce future NBA players like some of the high school hoops powerhouses in Akron and Cleveland.

It’s a funny thing what young men can do when they start believing in themselves and their teammates. When they feel love and support from classmates, coaches and an entire community, they are able to battle one of the top teams in the state in one of the most memorable championship games in the history of the Ohio High School Athletic Association history.

“I Believe That We Will Win”

The student section was filled an hour before the game. Faces were painted and coordinated t-shirts were on. Cell phones were charged for the tweets, Instagrams and Snap Chats that would fill the arena until and after tip-off. They jumped and chanted and cheered and did everything they could to settle the nerves for the game. The players just had to do what they have done for the last 26 games. Play their game.

They scored the first 7 points of the game and the building was electric. The black and gold clad fans were on their feet. There were 80-year-old grandparents standing next to 8-year-old elementary school students cheering for this team that just seemed to be living a real life version of a Hollywood movie. They took the lead into halftime and had everything they had hoped for when the game started. They took a 6 point lead in the final 3 minutes and had a chance. It was all they could have asked for.

Their opponent was not in this game by accident. They had earned their way to the Final Four as well and boasted a roster with at least a few D-1 college prospects. The team and their boisterous fans certainly weren’t going to give up and they didn’t. The last few minutes see-sawed back and forth until the Golden Bears made an incredible play to go up by 3 points with 4.6 seconds left.

Time out on the floor. The fans stood and cheered. Would they pull it off or will the other team make a last-second 3-pointer to tie? Was this is a team of destiny or will they need to keep playing a little longer to find out? If “wanting” a team to win was all it took, the Bears would have been cutting down the nets last night.

The shot will go down in OHSAA history and probably won’t be forgotten by anyone in that building. It hit nothing but the bottom of the net and the game went into overtime. There was joy for one side and deflation for the other. The game was tied and headed to overtime. Five more minutes for the right to call yourself a “State Champion” for the rest of your life.

For 4:58 seconds, the UA team played their asses off trying to get back what they thought they already had, but it wasn’t enough. Time ran out and they fell short of the magical ending we all felt this story deserved.

Game Over

I, along with many in that building (and in the city of Upper Arlington, Ohio) on Saturday night don’t know much about where this team started their run – many of the boys playing together since youth basketball – but it wasn’t supposed to end like that. It just wasn’t…but it did.

Lakewood St Edwards 62 – Upper Arlington 58

Upper Arlington High School – 2014 Division I State Runners Up

“We are (clap, clap) UA (clap clap)”

Epilogue

My daughter is a freshman at UAHS this year. She sat in the student section at the last three games this season and enjoyed every second of the energy and emotion of cheering for “her team.” She sees these players in the hallways during the school year but doesn’t really interact with them. Why would she? They are upper classmen; she’s a freshman. My son goes to the local middle school and watched the last three games and cheered for his future school along with hundreds of his middle school buddies. He sat silent after they lost. My wife and I, while sad they lost, are both proud to say we graduated from Upper Arlington. Maybe even more so after watching this team put the school and community on their backs.

Not many of us “know” these boys or the coaches but we sure are proud of them today. There are plenty of college and professional athletes that could learn something about their efforts, attitude and approach to handling what life gives them. Look what three of the boys said on Twitter after they just lost the state championship game. Pure youth and pure class are exemplified at the same time in these tweets:

Harrison tweet

Hummer tweet

Vanatta tweet

These boys reminded us what a team can do when they all share a common goal and an unyielding desire to achieve it. This coaching staff will have many questions about what they could have done differently but they will have many more memories of what they did do. And life will go on. These boys are resilient. Rumor has it they were even out playing a pick up game today. I guess when one winning streak ends, it’s time to start another one.

The team that no one really knew about 5 months ago created something that people will know about 25 years from now.

Build relationships, solve problems, have fun…and Go Bears!

 

15 Responses to Bandwagons, Believing and Broken Dreams
  1. Dick Stone
    March 24, 2014 | 3:31 am

    I was a 79 year old sitting with my nine year old twin grandchildren. Very impressed with this team and unfortunately did not get to a see them play until this w/e. Great coaching job and a great team. I was 2 years old when UA won that state championship and ended up being a good friend of one of the Captains. That team would be very proud of this team and what they did for not only themselves but the UA community.

    • Sean
      March 24, 2014 | 10:23 am

      Thanks for commenting Mr. Stone. I was wondering if anyone was there who might have remembered the last team to make it that far. I’m sure you had some wonderful memories wash over you this last week with all the media attention on the 1937 team. The weaving of generations is what makes sports and community such a neat thing to be a part of. Go Bears!

  2. Leslie Heath
    March 24, 2014 | 12:41 pm

    I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful reflection on the boys season. I have two boys on the team senior Harrison Heath and junior Austin Heath. The boys were so devastated after the loss and your article really put things into perspective for them and my husband and I. I think they are starting to see the bigger picture. Thank you!

    • Sean
      March 24, 2014 | 2:03 pm

      Leslie – Thanks for the comments and congratualations to you and your husband for raising such good boys. Their efforts and dedication to their friends is something they will always have. Sometimes things don’t end the way we want but win or lose, the lessons learned will be useful later in life. For the last 75 years there have been plenty of boys to wear that UAHS jersey who would have loved the opportunity to play in a game like that. You had two boys who got to.

      Keep up the great work.

  3. Laura Richter
    March 24, 2014 | 2:00 pm

    A heartfelt thank you to the UA community for their tremendous support. Truly, truly the “sixth-man” helped boost this team to new heights. So proud of this great group of boys and so grateful to be a part of this community.

    • Sean
      March 24, 2014 | 5:50 pm

      Laura – I am sure you’ll look back on this moment as a true growth moment for Logan as not just a ball player but a leader. Sometimes it’s the losses that provide us with better lessons than the wins.

      Thanks for commenting

  4. Alice Davis
    March 24, 2014 | 2:39 pm

    It was the weaving of generations that makes it all such a neat thing. Sam Davis (my husband) grew up with Dick Stone and played for U.A. and his son and grandson Wes Davis who played for this team……believe me every boy on that team was a team player including the cheerleaders and U.A. fans. A joy to watch! Go Bears!

    • Sean
      March 24, 2014 | 5:49 pm

      Mrs. Davis – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The feedback to the blog post has been fantastic and it just reinforces how excited this community is for what happened. You should be very proud of Wes and all of his buddies.

  5. Courtney Rusoff
    March 24, 2014 | 5:02 pm

    Totally fantastic article, Sean. I watched the game and WISHED I’d been there in person. This was BETTER than all the March Madness with the older players, because on the boys’ young faces was such unbridled hope and enthusiasm- also respect and love of playing a game as a team. I’m so glad you shared.

    • Sean
      March 24, 2014 | 5:53 pm

      Thank for the comments Courtney. The excitement and passion these boys showed on their march to the title game was awesome. They inspired a lot of people and for a bunch of 16-18 year olds, that’s tough to do. I’m sure they will continue to enjoy the moment for a lifetime.

  6. Dave Parsons
    March 24, 2014 | 8:03 pm

    Sean,

    I have run the scoreboard for the UA boys basketball for the last 20 years, my son played on the 83 team, and I played on the 55 team. It was to bad that I missed all of this run as I am in Florida on vacation. We were able to pick up the game on a radio feed on the computer and we listened to the last quarter and the overtime until the final play. You could have heard us cheer at the top of our voices as the team keep playing as hard as they could. Your comment about playing as a team is right on and as a former player I can tell you the joys and lessons learned playing as a team has paid off all of my life and that has come no matter how many games we won or lost.
    The rules state that someone has to win and someone has to loose but the bottom line is you seem to come out ahead when you loose and to know you always played with the team you loved.

    Go bears and we are so proud of their efforts.

    • Sean
      March 25, 2014 | 2:52 am

      Dave – Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts. I’m sure you have had lots of emotions as you are “on the inside” of the program. Sorry you missed it as it was amazing to see, even though it didn’t end the way we all would have hoped.

  7. Mo Ebel
    March 25, 2014 | 10:01 pm

    Sean,
    You certainly did an incredible job of putting so many of our thoughts in words. After getting home on Saturday night, our little five year old daughter who went to both games told us it was the best weekend she ever had. It was truly her first experience of cheering for a team. With her face painted and a black and gold cheer leading outfit on, she never stopped cheering! Our family also would like to thank these coaches, players and UA fans for an incredible weekend. Something we or our daughter will never forget!

  8. Nancy Drees
    March 28, 2014 | 2:41 am

    As cars stream from UA to Schottenstein, our city empties to watch “our boys”. Memories are born and our spirit is awaken. It follows many themes, one in particular makes me smile. Perhaps, you recognize it.

    “They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” Field of Dreams

    People did come. Thank you boys for making this dream come to life.

    • Sean
      March 30, 2014 | 12:50 am

      Nancy – Thanks for the comments. Yes…the whole playoff run was very “Field of Dreams”-like.

      “People will come Ray!” 🙂