Archive for Wednesday, March 6, 2002

THS boys’ basketball run becomes memorable ride

March 6, 2002

Huey Lewis once sang: "The power of love is a curious thing makes one man weep, makes another man sing."

Although basketball isn't on the same scale as love, one minute it was jubilation, a day later it was dejection.

So went the Sub-state tournament for the Tonganoxie High School boys' basketball team.

Friday, with its semifinal game moved up to 4 p.m. because of impending inclement weather, the Chieftains roared to a 70-64 win against Lansing. This team was heading in a direction other THS teams hadn't for nearly 20 years toward a State berth.

No. 5 Tonganoxie last played in a State tournament in 1984, but the drought was expected to end with a win against Atchison, the No. 6 seed.

The Redmen, though, came away jumping in a frenzy at mid-court in Hiawatha, winning 66-55 and set to play in the 4A State Tournament in Salina.

The Chieftains, meanwhile, settled for a runners-up trophy and retreated to their locker room, eyes saturated with tears.

The senior-heavy team didn't enter Sub-state with a stellar record, but at 10-10, showed they could give most teams a good fight.

Aside from an embarrassing loss to Bonner Springs in the Tonganoxie Invitational, the team wasn't far from breaking out.

It was fitting that the Chieftains ultimately played its best at Sub-state.

Winning a first-round game for the first time in more than a decade, defeating Lansing after falling twice in the regular season, then advancing to the tournament finals these accomplishments might have made the loss to Atchison slightly easier to handle.

Still, the Chieftains were a few points away from heading to State, and emotions changed in such a short time.

But as solemn as the locker room was after the game, those same players were chatting a mile a minute an hour later at the Pizza Hut in Hiawatha.

The loss to the even bigger underdog Atchison didn't seem to matter. Tonganoxie had its first winning season since 1992, the Chieftains now have experience for future Sub-state rounds as they head into coming years.

The team even practiced in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday morning, an opportunity most athletes haven't had.

When Tonganoxie team members walked onto the court, their eyes became bigger and bigger as they took in the historic fieldhouse.

Friday night, I asked Thomas Gilner if he was going to hoist Jon Gripka on his shoulders and measure the distance from the basket to the floor.

Gilner looked at me in a puzzled manner, then I mentioned a similar scene in "Hoosiers."

"I was pretty young when that came out," Gilner said.

DVDs and VCRs are now available, but I realized he didn't grow up with that masterpiece as I did.

When the team pulled up to an empty Allen Fieldhouse as the Hickory Huskers did to Butler Fieldhouse in Indiana, I once again had a flashback to the movie.

Throw in that curvy trip through miles and miles of snow-covered farmland on U.S. Highway 159 from Nortonville to Horton, and the whole situation whispered "sequel."

Unfortunately for the Chieftains, the journey ended Saturday evening.

But life, as well as basketball, will continue for years to come.

And one of those years just might include a Hollywood-style finish for the Tonganoxie Chieftains.

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