Before being presented their Class 2A boys basketball state championship medals, the Keenan Raiders got admiration and encouragement from some folks who knew how they were feeling.
Several players from the 1975 Keenan state championship squad addressed the team and the student body that this past Saturday won the state title for the first time since 2011.
Rodney Fair, John Nelums, Linwood Randle, Lee Richards and Johnny Stocker were among the 15 players who made up the first Raiders title team.
“It’s been 40 years. We started it, and you guys have kept it going,” said Nelums. Randle, facilities manager at EdVenture, told the Raiders he had been at Colonial Life Arena, cheering them on as they defeated Ridgeland-Hardeeville 69-46.
Raiders coach Zach Norris had not realized that it was the 40th anniversary of the basketball program’s first Class 2A state championship, but said having those players back was important.
“We are extremely happy that they came back to celebrate with us,” he said. “We tell our kids they are ambassadors of Keenan, of the people who were here before them, and everyone that’s here now.”
Javontae Davis, one of three seniors on this year’s 21-8 team, said their presence was an honor.
“It’s a blessing because they’ve been here before; they know how hard we had to work, and they supported us and came back to celebrate with us,” Davis said. “It just lets me know that we have our whole Raider Nation behind us. They’re going to always stay by our side, win or lose, no matter what.”
But the Raiders were not just there to celebrate. The former players, along with several district officials, used the occasion to challenge both the Raiders and their classmates to aim to be champions in academics and in life.
The Raiders’ season produced individual honors for Kendrick Gathers, Antwan Holmes, Lemarcus Johnson and Tariq Simmons, who were named to the all-region team. Gathers was named to the all-state team. Holmes was selected for the North-South all-star game to be played March 21. Norris was selected Region 3-2A coach of the year.
It was an occasion Davis will remember fondly, and years from now, he said, “It would be a great pleasure to come back to my old school and see a kid like myself doing the same things.”