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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Center court a special place to be Saturday

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Northview coaches Tony Trout (front left), Rich Schelsky (front right) and Scott Buell (back center) celebrate after Saturday's emotional win. Tony Harper photo/Harper Studios

Members of Northview's sectional title team gather at center court following the final buzzer on Saturday night. Tony Harper photo/Harper Studios

Friends and teammates Logan Whitman (left) and Tyler Akers hug each other after their sectional title win. Carey Fox photo

The scene was almost surreal. Those who watch ESPN's Sportscenter regularly would have recognized what was going on in Plainfield's High School gym on Saturday night. A scene of sheer jubilation. A melding of fans and players at center court in a wildly bouncing, crying, ecstatic mass of joy.

And I'm so glad that I got to be a part of it.

While I've only been fortunate enough to have covered Northview boys' basketball for the past two seasons, I've come to realize how special a situation it really is.

A town, so closely linked to a group of special kids that are, in turn, even closer to each other has created something contagious. How else can you explain the fact that of the gym's 3,000+ capacity, that approximately 2,000 of that was clad in maroon and creating a deafening din for their beloved Knights?

How else can you explain that fans and players alike clutched each other in tears, a combination of relief, happiness and exhaustion that carried over not only to a group of players who've laid their hearts and souls out on the floor for four years to reach this pinnacle, but to fans alike who felt like they were suited up as well.

While most teenagers seem to want to distance themselves from adults, this group of kids has carried the torch for a town that hasn't seen a sectional title in 16 years. And in Indiana, that sort of drought breeds intense pressure. The sort that is difficult for anyone, let alone a teenager. But back-to-back 21 win seasons builds up a lot of hope and a 20th win on Friday night over sectional enemy Martinsville elevated emotions to a fever pitch especially against Terre Haute South, a foe that needed no introduction.

So it was on Saturday night, that a group of kids went to bat once more for a final shot at that elusive sectional trophy so long in the coming.

Standing on the baseline before the game, listening to the jeers of South fans who didn't believe that Northview could win the big game, I found myself, a supposedly neutral journalist, hoping for a Northview victory.

And as each clutch 3-pointer or free throw or defensive stand was made in the closing minutes, I found my own heart beating faster and watched my knuckles grow a little whiter as Zach Keyes final free throws dropped through the nylon.

As the final horn sounded and the crowd spilled onto the floor, I made my way into the melee to hopefully, faithfully record the emotion that was so prevalent in the crowd, the energy that pulsed through each person I saw in the mix. There were poignant scenes that conveyed what was at stake on that court on Saturday night. Keyes holding onto members of the coaching staff with tears in his eyes, Logan Whitman hugging his parents after the game, Keyes walking away from the free throw line, arms outstretched looking towards the heavens as if saying 'thank you.' Even I became swept up in the emotion as a couple of players hugged me as I came in to interview them after the game.

To anyone that was in Plainfield on Saturday night it became so very clear what makes high school basketball in Indiana so different than anywhere else. No where else is emotion and history interwoven so closely with a game played by one's father, grandfathers, uncles and brothers. Saturday was truly a memorable night, a sectional title in hand, and soon, perhaps a regional title to accompany it.

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