POTTSVILLE?- A funny thing happened last weekend as three area district champions opened their bids at state championships.
In an area filled with sports rivalries as fierce as any, and with most being based on proximity, surprisingly it was the closeness of the three district champions that helped unite the area.
Obviously, Williamsport, which carries the city's name, represents the area, but so do Loyalsock and St. John Neumann. All three teams carry Williamsport zip codes and area codes. And all three were district champions.
Loyalsock student fans cheer Saturday at Martz Hall. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"It's great for the community," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "We came out last Friday night and supported Neumann. We then did the same thing for Loyalsock Saturday before our game. It's great when you have all the teams in the local Williamsport area able to go out and perform the way we performed."
Every deep postseason run by a team is special. But what elevates those special ones into something that sticks throughout history is often what surrounds it. And you know the type of run I'm speaking of. The ones that have people reminiscing years after its conclusion.
With the help and support of the entire Loyalsock community and a few local players from other teams, Loyalsock's most recent run into the PIAA playoffs became one, even though it ended with a 73-68 overtime loss Saturday to Trinity.
And don't get me wrong, basketball, especially the emergence of certain players on the team, will be the focal point. But what really separates this run from others is the entire community being united through three different team's journeys into the PIAA tournament.
Yes, it worked out that Loyalsock was the final one standing, but I have a feeling if it had been Neumann or Williamsport the support would be just as strong.
And don't think the support was done there. As Chris Masse and I prepared for Saturday's game at Martz Hall, we noticed Williamsport senior Jahad Thomas decked out in Loyalsock gear.
"It's an honor to be the last team standing," Loyalsock coach Ron "CI" Insinger said. "This has become a close-knit group, even though we're fierce competitors once the ball is throw up on the court."
The community's rallying cry around its basketball teams opened last Friday night with an 84-38 blowout win by St. John Neumann. In attendance during that game were Williamsport players, who also cheered on Loyalsock the next day as it opened with a 63-54 win over Mid Valley.
"It helps put our city on the map. Not just District 4," Taylor said. "It speaks volumes about the talent and coaches we have in this area. I hope we all can continue to move on."
The Loyalsock win proved to be even more special for the area as Insinger recorded his 800th career win in the process.
Almost immediately after the celebration the Loyalsock players raced across town to Montoursville to cheer on Williamsport as it opened the Class AAAA playoffs against Liberty.
"In the game we're enemies, but off the court we're best friends," Loyalsock guard Omar Little said of the Williamsport players. "I just come and support my boys."
Thomas' thoughts, given roughly a week after Little gave his, echoed the Loyalsock guard's almost to a 'T'.
"It's a big deal, because on the court we might be enemies, but just us coming out and showing support shows we are just one big family," Thomas said before cheering on Loyalsock in Saturday's game. "It's sucks being out of the tournament, but hopefully Loyalsock can bring it home. I'm going to be at every game I can from here on out."
Unfortunately, after a 51-48 win over Communications Tech to secure Insinger's 801st victory, Loyalsock's season didn't go any further than Saturday's game.
"It's nice to see District 4 get behind us and support us when we're making our run," Insinger said. "It speaks volumes of our district and to the student athletes we have in Lycoming county."
But, as younger players step into the roles of the contributors they have looked up to, hopefully the bond built by this unique and special situation continues.
"All the schools are starting to pave the road with excellence," Insinger said. "And the kids are starting to realize that when we're not going nose-to-nose that it's healthy to support everyone."
As someone who has grown up in this area I understand the importance athletics can have in a student's life. I also understand the importance of having quality role models to look up to.
This area is loaded with those types of coaches and players. Hopefully, with the support seen throughout the basketball postseason, it will continue to come together.
"Williamsport has become a hotbed for great basketball," Insinger said. "With Neumann, Loyalsock and Williamsport all in the area. It speaks volumes of the student athletes and coaches we have, and how they are doing great things."
"It meant a lot," Little said. "We all care. Williamsport supports Williamsport."