As one team cuts down the net an hour away, securing its legacy, two others begin their quest. Win and they, too, become immortalized.
Wellsboro, Loyalsock, St. John Neumann and Sullivan County boys basketball teams are playing for District 4 championships Saturday. They are championship games, but they also are legacy games.
Winning a district title means more than simply receiving a gold medal and a championship banner, especially at these four schools. These four teams have a chance to put a mark on their program's history, they each have the chance to always be remembered by their biggest fans.
Wellsboro and Loyalsock meet first at 3 p.m. in the District 4 Class AA final at Mansfield. Neumann and Sullivan take the court two hours later at Montoursville. All are state tournament bound but by 7 p.m. two of those teams will have achieved something unique and special.
Wellsboro (22-1) has not played in a district final since 1999. The last time it won a championship in 1952, Harry Truman was concluding his second presidential term. Prior to this season, the Green Hornets had not won a playoff game since 2006. So really, this Wellsboro team has a chance to become legendary in its community's annals.
Despite being the district's top seed, Wellsboro also has a chance to strike a blow for itself and the Northern Tier. Throughout the season many, including this reporter, wrote that Loyalsock and Lewisburg deserved the top two seeds based on bodies of work and schedule strength. All Wellsboro did was keep winning and now it has a chance to silence all the critics once and for all.
The Hornets have won 14 straight, play swarming defense and are a cohesive team that has five players scoring in or near double figures. Saturday, they will likely have a huge following at Mansfield and can win that elusive district title at a gym where it recorded one of its biggest wins in recent memory, a last-second NTL-West championship win over Mansfield two years ago.
"It's a great team," Wellsboro coach Todd Outman said. "They're a great bunch of kids."
While Wellsboro plays in its backyard, Loyalsock makes the 50-mile trek North. It is the latest obstacle in a season complete with them. The Lancers (23-3) won both the HAC-II and Heartland Conference championships, going undefeated and beating Lewisburg (22-4) three times during that span. Still, they were only seeded No. 3 and had to through Bloomsburg and Lewisburg once again to reach the final.
But now Loyalsock is where it wants to be. Now Loyalsock has a chance to carve its niche. Loyalsock is rich in basketball tradition and has won seven district championships since 2001. This team has the chance to be the first repeat winner since 2005. This team has a chance to say it traveled one of the toughest paths and to prove that it is not only equal to past champions, but possibly better.
"They have learned from past teams and they just want to do better," said longtime coach Ron Insinger, who needs just two more wins for 800. "They want to have their own legacy."
Now they have their chance.
So does Neumann.
Neumann has a strong basketball tradition but fell on hard times two years ago, staggering to a 2-20 finish. That is a distant memory now. A year ago, Neumann made a huge comeback, won 18 games, reached the state tournament's second round and came within a minute of winning the district title. Sullivan County blocked its championship path.
Now nearly a year to the date, Neumann (22-2) has a chance to exact revenge, finish what it started last year and win the program's first district title since 2000 against the same team on the same court. The Knights swept Sullivan in the regular season and captured the HAC-III championship. Those games really are meaningless now, though. Saturday's is the one that really counts.
Neumann won its first 18 games, the best start in program history. Win Saturday and this close-knit, tough-minded group that has four players averaging in double figures can lay claim to being one of the best in program history. Considering who stands in the way, Neumann could not write a much better script.
Although it beat Neumann in last year's riveting final, Sullivan (22-2) also can exorcise some demons Saturday. The only blemishes on the Griffins' schedule have come courtesy of Neumann. There has been a feeling since these two last met about a month ago that they were on a collision path to meet in the final. Ever since then, Sullivan has yearned for another opportunity and this is team it wants to be playing in its biggest game yet.
Last year's Sullivan team will forever be legendary in Laporte because it won the school's first district title in any team sport. Now the Griffins have a chance to go back-to-back. A program that once had no history has a chance to make some more.
And that really is what these two games are all about Saturday.
-Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org