THERE IS NO greater emotion shown in all of sports than in state high school basketball championship games. Win or lose, it all spills out. The tears can be equal on both sides, those of joy to the winners and those of devastation to the losers.
The Columbia High girls led Bishop England for 29 of 32 minutes in the Class 2A championship game Saturday at Colonial Life Arena. The Capitals had seven possessions to win at the end. They had a 3-point attempt at the buzzer to capture their sixth title under coach Bobby Young.
Columbia did not score in the game’s final 2:27. It missed its final five shots and turned the ball over twice. So, when senior guard Norrisha Victrum’s 3-point attempt bounced off the rim to give Bishop England the 43-41 victory, emotion overtook everyone on the court.
Bishop England players dogpiled at midcourt in celebration of their first state championship. The Bishops completed a perfect 28-0 season by coming from 10 points down in the first quarter and 9 in the second.
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Columbia High players collapsed to the floor. Victrum, a senior who carried Columbia with 21 points, attempted to find a hiding place. She first headed to the nearest tunnel, only to be turned back by a security guard.
Then she found a solitary chair beneath one basket and pulled the jersey she wore for the final time over her head. Finally, she headed to the handshake line where nearly every Bishop England player gave her a hug.
As she departed the playing floor, Victrum wore her consolation prize — a medal — around her neck and toted the runner-up trophy in one hand as if she were forced to carry someone else’s luggage out of an airport. She forever looked in sight of a trash can to dispose of it.
Young gathered his team in the locker room. He has been here before, nine times in fact. Columbia won state titles under Young in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004. The Capitals lost a 3A championship in 1991, then 2A title games in 2002 and 2003 before Saturday.
This marked the 72-year-old Young’s 30th season coaching the Columbia girls, or perhaps it should be said he will soon begin his fourth decade “teaching” the Columba girls.
“Anybody can come up and gather a few good players and win,” Young said earlier in the week. “But what happens when you don’t have the good players? That’s when the teaching comes in. You’ve got to be able to teach.”
That teaching goes beyond the skills of the game.
“The most important thing about this is that basketball is not an end,” Young told his team as the 13 members sat at their cubicles with tears flowing. “It is a means to the end. We learn life skills in playing basketball, baseball, any sport.
“These same kind of things are going to happen to you in life. So, what you’ve got to do now is hold your head up and make something positive out of a negative. You’ve got to learn from these experiences.”
Young told his team he loved each and every one of them. He talked of how proud he was of this particular team, one that lost one of its top players to Dutch Fork in the offseason, another to injury in the preseason and yet another to academic issues. Young had to raid his JV program to field enough players for daily practices.
He told his players to hold their heads up, that crying was not going to wash away the pain of the defeat, that life will go on, particular for the seniors on the team — Victrum, Dorothy Brown, Monique Woodson and Tierra Richardson.
“Guess what happened? We lost, right? We lost, right?” Young said. “But the sun is going to come up tomorrow. There’s going to be another day. This is not the end. The sun is going to come up the next day.
“So, that tells you right there the game is not bigger than life. I know a lot of you are emotional. It’s the last time you’re going to play for Columbia High, the last time you’ll practice, the last time you’ll wear that Columbia High uniform. But you’re going on to bigger and better things. You’re going out into the world.”
With that, the team dispersed. Victrum was the first one out of the locker room. She is headed next year to Marshall University, where she will continue her basketball career.
Some day, Saturday’s loss will be a distant memory for Victrum and her Columbia High teammates. But it might take more than the sun coming up today to overcome the immense hurt that goes with that loss.
That is the kind of emotion you get in state high school basketball championships.