WHS 2013 has LHS feel of '95
In 1995, Lebanon's boys won their first region basketball championship in 26 seasons playing on their home floor.
The old Campbell Brandon Gym/Hester Gibbs Court [which didn't have those names, yet] may have been a neutral site for most of the teams in the Region 4-AAA tournament that year. But Lincoln County and its relatively few supporters must have felt under siege by the Blue Devil blitz.
The venerable court was rocking and rolling even more three nights later when the Blue Devils put up 100 points in destroying Bradley Central in what was then called the substate to return to the State Tournament for the first time in 10 seasons. Fans flooded the court while Paul Weir transitioned from scoreboard operator to DJ by playing the jock jam tunes in vogue in the mid-'90s.
I was reminded of those scenes two nights ago when the Watertown community released decades of frustration as their Purple Tigers took home their first region title – ever.
Don't know how many people were at both venues other than myself. But one was Purple Tiger assistant coach Leon Love, who was a senior Blue Devil guard 18 years ago. Head coach Matt Bradshaw missed that season as he graduated from LHS the year before and returned to the school the next season to begin his coaching career as a Randall Hutto assistant.
"The crowd tonight, I looked over at coach Love and I said, 'This reminds me of Lebanon and Oakland'," Bradshaw said after his Tigers made school history Thursday night. "The size of the crowd and the atmosphere, for us it brought back a lot of memories of the type of atmosphere you get when a community gets behind your program."
Because of the bracket placements, Clarkrange was the home team on the scoreboard, and the Buffaloes even wore home white. But that was in name only. As the Tigers roared in the second half, despite a vocal contingent from the Cumberland Plateau cheering for the Buffs, there was no mistaking the Purple reign, just like the Blue mist at the old LHS in '95.
"I watched it on film because [Love] keeps telling me about it," Bradshaw said.
This was actually Bradshaw's second 4-A title won on the Tigers' floor. His Friendship Christian team won its first-ever championship by beating Red Boiling Springs in 2010.
"We didn't have an atmosphere like we had [tonight] the last time we won one here," said Bradshaw, who was part of another Blue Devil championship, in 2000, as an LHS assistant.
Wilson County mayor Randall Hutto coached the '95 and '00 Blue Devils and is a WHS graduate. He told me last week that with not a whole lot to do in town, going to a Purple Tiger game when the team is winning is the thing to do.
"When the sports are good, they'll turn out and support them," the county mayor said.
Another mayor soaked up the postgame scene which included his son and nephew on the team.
"I never thought I'd live to see this," Watertown mayor Mike Jennings said.
If the mayor can live a few more days, he may get to see more firsts.
Purple Tiger Nation will have one more chance to get together in the gym on the hill on West Main Street on Monday night when Grace Baptist comes up from Chattanooga for the sectional. The winner will go to the State Tournament. When a community school makes it to Murfreesboro, those entire towns turn out in Murphy Center. A year ago, Friendship had to stare down the populaces of McEwen and Perry County to claim the gold ball.
"I hope on Monday night we can have a bigger crowd than we had tonight," Bradshaw said. "These kids earned it."