Make no mistake, it isn't easy being an Eel.
If your going to be a part of Clay City basketball, it won't come easily.
Practices are focused, determined and difficult. Not to say that the players and coaches aren't enjoying their time together, but it's the type of satisfaction that is gained from a hard day's work.
What made Saturday so wonderfully emotional for Clay City fans, was that a sectional championship is a tangible benchmark for a successful journey. What so many Eels' fans already knew is that this particular group of Eels were ultimately deserving of breaking the title drought that had reached three decades.
It's rare that a Class A school has a senior class as large as the one that Clay City boasts this season. Six seniors, Braxton Griffith, Levi Seymour, Will Kennedy, Kyler Rhodes, Orry Heffner and Jordan Defore, all toiled long hours in the chase for Saturday's release. Playing for a coach like Grant McVay is rarely easy, but certainly brings with it rewards in maturity and personal growth. Practices aren't often filled with laughter and goofing off, but are more often punctuated with the groans of exertion on a hard pick and accentuated by the constant squeak of hard cuts. Life lessons aren't always spelled out in black and white, but are mostly ingrained without us realizing.
It takes a special kind of person to remain so focused on a task at hand despite the arduous road that leads to the destination. But it's a guarantee that each of these players and coaches will take away many lessons learned from their time in the Clay City program.
So on Saturday night, all of those summer conditioning sessions and hours in the weight room during their four years, were just a blip in the rearviewmirror. But if you don't mind me using a quote from former NBA star and United States Senator, Bill Bradley.
"Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in."
Each one of these Eels has given of themselves in the pursuit of a greater good for the team. And I believe McVay relishes having such a group of young men finally achieve what so many others fell short of reaching.
Following the cutting down of the nets on Saturday, McVay wasn't so much focused on what this team had accomplished, but what the program had done. While the Eels' coach gave credit to his current team, he quickly pointed out that this championship was for all his former players.
McVay knows from his own playing days what it's like to end a long sectional drought for a small community.
In 1992, McVay was part of a Turkey Run Warriors' team that ended a 17-year title drought with a win over Greencastle on the Tiger Cubs' home floor. If you double the excitement from that win as a player, you get what Eels' fans experienced after waiting 33 years since Tom Heaton, Joe Gerber and Andy Runyon led the Eels to a buzzer-beater overtime win over Sullivan in 1976.
Not to be lost in this is the connection between both teams as Jordan Defore stuffs the stat columns for this year's edition and his father, Mark Defore, was a junior on the 1976 team.
So it was during the tearful bedlam that surrounded that IHSAA Sectional trophy that I was reminded what makes basketball so special in this state. And I imagine that each of those Clay City players realized that what had seemed like so much hard work, was all just part of the voyage towards one magical night.