The atmosphere at the Columbus North gymnasium on Saturday night was kind of like Christmas time at church.
A whole lot of people showed up who you hadn’t seen in a while.
They came because, well, something really special was happening, something they had to check out. Frankly, it would have been a sin to miss.
One of our religions in Indiana is high school basketball and the level of competition just doesn’t get any higher than it was when Columbus North hosted defending 4A state champion Bedford North Lawrence in the regional title game.
The fact that the Stars came out on top 68-54 really was no reflection on the game itself. If you love basketball, its strategies and its wonderful athletes, you were in heaven.
Sure, Bedford North Lawrence was just too good, too talented, too darned big. But watching two coaching staffs match wits and trying to adhere to a plan was fascinating stuff.
North coach Pat McKee and his staff have taken the program to astounding levels. They were facing an Indiana basketball legend in Damon Bailey, who has done the same at Bedford North Lawrence.
But McKee and Bailey would be the first to say, “Let’s concentrate on the players.”
Here in Columbus, it was time for a little love for the local players.
The Bull Dogs, who finished 23-3, were handed a collective high five as the final minute ticked away, a time when they probably felt like running from the floor and shedding a whole lot of tears.
If the Bull Dogs looked around, and absorbed the moment, they would have seen a packed house of fans, probably about 5,000, who were moved to attend a high school girls basketball game. Those players were responsible for them being there. How cool is that?
The North, and the Bedford North Lawrence players for that matter, were responsible for generating that excitement, for nurturing a whole new group of girls basketball fans, for becoming role models.
One example of the unselfishness that goes into team success was on full display in the person of North senior Tayler Goodall. She was the unfortunate winner in the “who is going to guard 6-foot-3 center Jenna Allen contest?”
At 5-foot-9, Goodall was giving away six inches in height and a whole lot of bulk. Yet for most of four quarters, Goodall pushed and pulled and yanked and bullied Allen because that’s what the team needed.
It obviously affected Goodall’s offense, even though she finished with 15 points.
When McKee removed Goodall from the game to a standing ovation, she finished one point short of tying the career scoring record at North. Goodall scored 1,291 points in her career while 2003 graduate Tina Bolte recorded 1,292.
In talking to Goodall earlier, she had said she never, ever thinks about numbers, just wins. That’s called integrity.
Goodall, and fellow seniors Kelsey Cunningham and Emmy Schabel, along with all their teammates, have taken lessons from their mentors and worked to the wee hours trying to follow that path.
They, in turn, have taught us a little something. Aim high, work hard, stay the course. The road less taken.
That road, whether they noticed it or not, has produced impressive results, including the amount of butts in the seats on Saturday night.
Imagine that North football linebacker Luke Teague was playing head cheerleader at Saturday night’s game, directing the chorus of North students, dressed in tropical garb, to pulse like a boa constrictor every time the Stars shot free throws.
Imagine that the North pep band was presented another opportunity to perform its magic in front of a packed house, stirring up the crowd with another awesome national anthem. Perhaps the band knew something, too, when it played a little Mission Impossible before the game.
Imagine that a community became one in support of a group of teenage girls.
The agony of defeat will haunt the Bull Dogs for quite some time. It will take some time for them to figure it all out.
But the truth will finally emerge. The triumph of their performance will leave them, and all of us, proud.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.