10:46 PM EDT, March 17, 2013
The Hagerstown Community College men’s basketball program is about to go into orbit.
The Hawks are like the astronauts who used to routinely take trips on the space shuttle. They are about to explore a new frontier that only a few have experienced before them.
OK, it may not be the quiet and awe-inspiring vastness of outer space, but it’s a galaxy with its own stars.
It’s the NJCAA Division I national tournament. It happens yearly, but for teams like HCC, most see it about as often as Halley’s Comet.
And for those involved, it might be almost as memorable.
When HCC takes the floor Monday against Lee College, it will be something this group has never experienced and may never experience again.
The Hawks are about to play for a national championship. No matter how long the odds, they are one of very few teams — 24, to be exact — to be afforded this opportunity. It’s an opportunity every team thought about in the offseason, targeted in the preseason and aimed for during the season.
But like cream, the smallest of portions rise to the top.
The national tournament has been the major symphony being played as background music for HCC.
Everything done during the season was performed for the purpose of this moment.
And everything that is about to happen was symbolized on a table that has been sitting next to the main court in the HCC athletic facility for practices. It became a major sign for the last month.
There is a white sheet of paper taped to the makeshift scorer’s table.
On the top half is a tournament bracket, showing the steps needed to win a title.
Below, the words “The Journey” were written and underlined.
And at the bottom were the numbers 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, which all have slashes through them. Then, instead of 0 or Blast Off or even Happy New Year, they are followed by one word — actually an abbreviation.
The countdown has been completed and the ball — in this case, a basketball — is about to drop. It’s time for HCC to takeoff and start anew — at the NJCAA tournament in HUTCHinson, Kan., for the first time since 1994.
The countdown was the previous seven games — which constituted winning the Maryland JuCo, Region XX and District 3 tournament titles. They all came after the Hawks reached their absolute lowpoint, losing the last two games of the regular season after winning 22 of the first 24.
The Hawks were able to get through all adversity and come together as a team at the right time of the season to make a run at a championship. Does that work? Ask the 2011 New York Giants and the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
But while this tournament is about the here and now, it could be the key that unlocks a vast number of possibilities for HCC as a basketball program, for its students and athletes and the school itself.
Any success the Hawks have on a basketball court in Kansas could translate into exposure for a school that gets overshadowed.
Coach Barry Brown envisions it on a larger scale.
“This is huge because it isn’t the first step for this program. There have been many little ones … this is just the largest,” said the fourth-year coach. “This year we got there and kicked in the door … and it’s a big freaking door.
“I think these guys on this team can be our greatest recruiting tool. When I got here, I tried to establish a winning culture, which is tough at the junior college level. You only have players for a year or two. Going to the nationals is the byproduct of it and this is our foundation. It’s great to go for the first time, but I hope it’s the first of many trips.”
Sophomore forward Antonio Jenifer is considering this trip to be like an advertising campaign.
“This is huge,” he said. “It’s huge for me because I will be able to show other coaches what I can do, and it might give me the opportunity to go to other schools. The opportunity is everything.
“But this is also going to help the school and the program. If we do well, others will come to HCC. Coaches from all over might look at the players and others might consider attending. What we do might make it better for the freshmen who follow us.”
Other HCC programs have competed on the national stage. The Hawks running and volleyball programs represent the school, vying to be the best of the best, almost annually. The baseball program has made strides in regional competition and played in the NJCAA World Series four years ago.
All are important components to establishing HCC’s “A National Program With Class” motto.
This isn’t to diminish those teams’ successes, but it’s hard to argue that having a basketball team earn an annual trip to Hutchinson isn’t the biggest the feather in the headband. At a junior college, basketball teams have as much media impact as strong football teams do at major four-year schools.
Together, all these athletes get the word out that Hagerstown Community College is something special.
But, now that the basketball program is in orbit, the sky’s the limit.
Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at email@example.com.
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