Throngs of people welcomed the Hedgesville High School state basketball championship team home Sunday afternoon in a story that was filled with sweet redemption.
Hedgesville’s 33-32 win over defending champion George Washington in Charleston, W.Va., on Saturday marked the school’s first championship since taking the 1970 crown in Class A competition.
After welcoming the team home Sunday at Hedgesville High School, Hedgesville Mayor Mary Sue Catlett told the story about how the picture for the school’s team was left out of the program for the 1970 championship tournament.
Catlett said the response to the situation at the time was that the team was going to lose the 1970 championship anyway, so it didn’t matter that the picture was not in the program.
“You put Hedgesville on the map one more time,” Catlett told the team gathered outside the Gilbert B. Miller Health and Physical Education Center.
Cars started showing up at the high school along W.Va. 9 more than two hours before a black bus carrying the team pulled into the school’s driveway at 4:52 p.m. A ladder truck from Bedington (W.Va.) Volunteer Fire Co. held a giant American flag above the entrance to the school’s gym and two Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department cruisers and a West Virginia State Police cruiser — all with sirens blaring — escorted the bus to the school.
Signs hanging on the side of the school proclaimed “HHS State Champs” and “Eagle Basketball # 1.”
“We couldn’t be more proud,” Catlett said.
Coach Kelly Church spoke to the crowd, recalling when he took over the coaching job at the high school, now Class AAA, and told people that his goal was to have a team in the top 10 every year.
Church said he was told that he needed to be realistic.
Church also recounted how the team overcame issues like individualism on the squad and differing agendas. Answering questions about the issues before the crowd on Sunday, team members talked about how they had come together in the end.
“(They) found a way to stand together and survive,” Church said.
Phillip Largent sank a free throw with 5 seconds left to send Hedgesville to victory over George Washington in the lowest-scoring boys championship game under the current three-class format.
Hedgesville’s Q.J. Peterson made a three-pointer with 3:30 left that tied the score at 30. Hedgesville’s Chris Shields and George Washington’s Luke Eddy traded baskets after that.
Largent then missed a baseline jump shot but was fouled by Thomas Franke. Largent missed the first free throw but made the second for the final point.
Largent gave interviews and signed autographs with a basketball net around his neck following the rally outside the school.
Largent said he felt the immense pressure on him when he tried and missed the first free throw.
But he said he knew something felt different about the second shot.
“As soon as it left my hands, I knew it was good,” said Largent, adding that he “felt the pressure drop.”
Although he was basking in the win, Church emphasized to the crowd that winning such a game has many lessons, like the relationships the players formed and the journey they enjoyed along the way.
Before Largent shot his two free throws, Church told the crowd about how he gathered team members together and asked them if they would still love Largent, no matter how the game turned out.
Team members said they would, Church said.
“It’s a memorable experience,” Church said.