Fan Support Grows In Many Ways
With the passing of 16-year-old Trey Leonard of Fennville, Mich., after sinking a layup in overtime to end a perfect season, I realized, again, the great importance of fans and community spirit to a high school athletic team.
Trey collapsed and died from an enlarged heart after celebrating the team’s perfect 20-0 regular season. I openly wept when reading how the team, school, and the community came to together after the tragic death of their star 6’2” center, who was also the star quarterback for the school’s football team.
It wasn’t only his death, but a high school wrestler died 14 months earlier at home of a seizure following a match. But, Leonard’s death touched the town on another level. Because of who he was, a lifetime resident and well known student athlete, the town’s grief was shown everywhere. Signs reading “Blackhawk Down. You Can Do It Hawks. Just Look Up” were displayed everywhere in the community.
It shows how a school and community come together, like the small town of New Martinsville and the undefeated 2010 Class-AA State Football Champions, Magnolia Blue Eagles.
The Wetzel County community and school support during the season and throughout the year has been amazing and has trickled down to basketball this past couple weeks.
From only having a nice crowd to having an overflowing crowd, the Magnolia Boys’ Basketball team captured its first OVAC title since the new OVAC format was put in place. And, through the sectionals and in the regional co-final, you can see that Eagle pride that has been displayed quite frequently throughout the town, just like the small town in Michigan.
After the Big Blue beat Ravenswood in the regional co-finale, 38-34, I just couldn’t get it out of my head how important it is for fans to get behind school sports. Once a player, I soaked up the fan support that energized my playing. The louder the fans got, the better I would play. It was also evident more so in cheerleading. When the Magnolia cheerleaders went to the regionals at Wheeling Park, the fans definitely made the difference in the girls winning the regional. Not only how fans dressed in the same type of t-shirts to support the team, but also how they yelled in support had my eyes watering with pride.
It was more evident this past weekend when the New Martinsville community joined forces with Magnolia High School and put on a wonderful Celebration of Champions inside the HammerDome at Magnolia High School.
Present for that event were many players that played for Magnolia back in 1964, when the first Blue Eagle team won a football state championship. The championship 2010 team also was there. They all shared the moment with the fans and it was a nice moment to remember. For me, it was remembering how all the fans cheered the Eagles on from the beginning of the season through the playoffs and the state finale.
The Celebration of Champions was simply one of the best functions that I have ever attended in my life. It was done with class and no stone was left unturned — from the decorations to the finger foods, to all the wonderful memorabilia of Magnolia Football back to the 1964 championship and to the 2010 team season. In addition, there were movies of both state championship games and more.
To the many, many people who put on this wonderful function, my hat is off to you. There were many people who had a part in planning and executing this event and I don’t want to mention any name for fear of forgetting some.
Talking about watering eyes, I thought it was such a nice touch when the 2010 senior players gave the 1964 players and coaches their plaques, knowing back then all they got was a little piece of wood showing they were state champs. However, the most touching was when the 1964 players handed championship rings to all players, coaches, and supporting staff. I thought I would break down.
Although the ceremony was perfect, it was my honor and privilege to have taken the picture of the two Magnolia head coaches, Bob Flanagan and Mark Batton, with their state championship trophies. The only thing I regret is not taking a picture of all the present coaches together with their rings.
Again, it was a perfect evening and just a wonderful crowd. I thought there would be many people attending, but we were blessed with far more than I ever anticipated.
It also had me thinking that the community should support all school teams, in every sport, in the same manner.
I would like to add, in some schools the school spirit is there, win or lose. For instance, when the Valley Lumberjill Basketball Team traveled to Wheeling Central in the sectional final, there were three to four times more Valley students there than there were for Wheeling Central.
Although the Maroon Knights played better and had a huge lead, the Valley faithful remained loyal and supported the ‘Jills to the very end. It was that outstanding fan support that energized a gallant comeback by the ‘Jills and opened a few eyes. There were a couple athletic directors that told me that they wished their schools had the fan support that Valley had.
That fan support starts with the players and coaches and trickles out to the community. It even gets referees excited. Trust me. The louder the fans got the more focused I was on calling the game.
As a sports writer, I also see and feel that support and usually report it in my stories. But, I also sometimes see unsportsmanlike conduct from ungrateful fans who see only what they want to see.
With winter sports almost over, spring sports — softball, baseball, and track — have started or will be starting soon. Let’s get out there and support the kids, win or lose, and energize them the way you have during the football and basketball seasons.