In 1989, C.A. Johnson celebrated it boys basketball championship with a 30-minute assembly in the gymnasium.
On Friday, the Hornets enjoyed a grander celebration, reveling in last week’s Class A championship victory against Whale Branch with a half-mile parade through the school’s neighborhood.
The team will be honored many times over – by the Richland 1 school board and the state legislature, among others – but Friday’s celebration was about the community and its future.
“One little team that turned into a big deal brought the whole community together, to show that we can still enjoy fun times together without any negativity going on,” said Peter Goodman, one of eight seniors on the squad.
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The players fawned over the green, white and gold float in the parking lot of W.A. Perry Middle School as Hornets coach Daryl Jarvis chatted with Tim Gates, coach of the title team from 25 years ago. A small contingent of Perry students and teachers gathered outside as the parade lined up — Johnson’s ROTC serving as grand marshal, followed by the cheerleaders and Hornets coaching staff, along with Gates and 1989 player Carey Rich.
“It’s surreal, and it’s always good to not be forgotten,” Rich said. “And for them to recognize the importance of us winning it, and for coach Jarvis and the athletics administration to think enough of us to want us to walk in front of the present team, the championship team, it’s very humbling.”
On the float, the Hornets toted both their Upper State championship trophy and the trophy they hoisted after rallying from an 18-point deficit to win 74-61 in overtime at Colonial Life Arena.
“Now that they are champions, now we are winners. This allowed them to see that they can do anything. So, from championship basketball, on to academics, their community and families, anything is possible,” said Justin Hopkins, an academic success coach at Johnson, who helped plan the event.
Dean of students Brian Baumgardner said it was the team’s idea to hold the community celebration, which concluded with a cookout at the high school.
“The schools are all closely related down here, and we thought it was a great opportunity to help promote ourselves to our younger generation,” he said. “We wanted to say, hey, this is where you’re going to be in a few years, at C.A. Johnson, and you’re going to have good things, and you’re going to be successful in life.”
The parade made its way down Barhamville Road, past the waving children of Watkins-Nance Elementary, past groups of neighbors gathered in front yards and church parking lots.
The players threw candy and green and gold beaded necklaces from the float. A car with “C.A. Johnson Class of 1953” magnets on either side was in the midst. The middle school basketball teams followed, and the C.A. Johnson band and dance team brought up the rear.
The assembly periodically stopped to pose for pictures, and the procession was met at the high school by a throng of cheering Hornets staff and students.
“We wanted to show everybody that we can succeed, through the negativity, and bring a lot of positive energy back,” Goodman said.