Effingham Daily News
On Friday, I got the chance to catch my first-ever boys basketball rivalry game between St. Anthony and Teutopolis.
Since first arriving at The Daily News in mid-January, I had repeatedly been told this scene would be unlike any other high school sporting event I have attended. Coming to Effingham by way of Columbus, Ohio, I played high school football at one of the largest public schools in the state. Needless to say, I was skeptic of the Teutopolis lure.
My mistake. Friday's scene was an astonishing display of small-town support that gave me eye-opening exposure to big-time high school basketball.
I arrived in the parking lot at 7 p.m., a good 45 minutes before tip. To my surprise, there was not one open spot available in either of the two main parking lots. Forced to "create" my own spot, this was my first sign I was in for an unexpected treat.
Then I walked in to get a copy of the rosters for the game, only to discover they had already been distributed in their entirety to fans that arrived early for the JV match-up. Sign two.
The third early indicator that I was in for quite a wake-up call came when I tried to find a seat for the start of the second half of the JV game. Yes, I said tried, because I had to ask a gentleman if he could politely squeeze in a little so I could fit on the end of the row. A game that has sold out by halftime of the JV contest? That's something I could never have imagined during my time in Ohio.
I also played high school basketball, and in a town, and a state, where football is the unquestioned king, basketball took a backseat. Typically, we had around 50 students show up to a game, at a school of nearly 2,000. My junior year, we sold out a few games, and that was when we won our first district championship in 72 years.
What I saw on Friday was simply awesome; an experience that had me wishing the game would somehow be played into multiple overtimes. I really hoped, not thinking of the deadline that would soon be creeping up on my recap story, that the game would go all night. I didn't get this wish, but I relished each of the 32 minutes I watched the teams, and the fans, duke it out.
Actually, I enjoyed the warm-ups that preceded the game as well. As soon as the clock started winding back from 20 minutes, the stands at J.H. Griffin Gym rose to their feet. Surely, I thought, this would cease when the boys came out and got through a few lay-ups. It did not. The section I was in, like the rest of the home stands, stood for the entire warm-up period.
When the game tipped off, each student section was electric, and I couldn't believe that the front row of students were mere inches from being on the playing surface itself. On in-bound plays under the hoop, the students could have reached out and touched the players.
Their proximity to the floor only made the typical verbal assaults slung toward the other team that much more impressive. Even when this game was well in hand for the Wooden Shoes, St. Anthony fans tried their best to think of slightly inappropriate, albeit creative insults at the home team. Not to be outdone, Teutopolis students had plenty of chants in their back pockets as well.
It's not that I haven't experienced a high school game with as much emotion, it's that I haven't seen it in a high school gymnasium. During my senior year, our first round in the football state playoffs drew 11,000 fans. Our rivalry match up during the regular season topped 8,000.
But to see this kind of crazed, energetic celebration on the hardwood led to a refreshing, exciting experience for this journalist. Just a few weeks into my time here, I have already had the most entertaining high school basketball venture I could imagine. Now, with the season winding down and tournament play beginning, who's ready to top it?