STAUNTON – Ryan Crawford saw the clock hit all zeros. He saw the other team run toward the court. It wasn’t his Lee High team celebrating. It was somebody else. That’s when he knew it was really over. That’s when it hit him.
Sitting on the bench, Crawford started crying. His big brother Tyler Crawford, who had graduated from Lee two years earlier, came up behind him, stretched out his long arms and embraced him, resting one hand on his brother’s chest and the other on his neck.
It finally happened. What 85 teams in a row couldn’t do, Martinsville did. And on the biggest of stages. Trying to win a third state basketball title in a row, Lee came up nine points short.
It’s still a VHSL record, the Leemen’s 85-game winning streak that lasted from Dec. 30, 2003 until March 10, 2006. It’s a streak the players and their coach, Paul Hatcher, still talk about. It’s one that finally ended with the loss to Martinsville.
More than a decade later, Eli Crawford, a cousin to both Tyler and Ryan, doesn’t focus on the loss. He chooses instead to focus on the winning streak.
“Man, there is no doubt in my mind that I had the greatest time of my life,” said Eli.
All three Crawfords plan on returning to Lee High this Saturday, Oct. 22, for an alumni basketball game, which will tip at 2 p.m. The game is free to the public.
It’s part of the release of a book I wrote, “The Staunton Streak: Paul Hatcher’s Basketball Dynasty.” Current Lee High coach, and Paul’s son, Jarrett Hatcher wrote both the introduction and epilogue.
Writing the book has been on my bucket list for a few years, but the timing was finally right in the summer of 2015.
The only issue was how to approach a book about Paul Hatcher. The man had 897 wins and four state championships in his coaching career. He was named Virginia High School League (VHSL) coach of the year 11 times and has been named to five different halls of fame. Where do you start?
Jarrett and I talked a lot about this very question and finally decided the place to start was perhaps the greatest accomplishment in Hatcher’s career — the winning streak.
Paul Hatcher’s memory is sharp. He remembers scores and plays from games that took place decades ago. We sat on his back porch almost every Sunday evening for several months in 2015, discussing the winning streak, his coaching career, his playing days at Bassett High School and Bridgewater College and his life outside of basketball, which hasn’t always been great. At times, he would get so excited about a play he would stand up and act it out for me. Paul also had copies of almost every newspaper article ever written about his team. That came in very handy.
The book will be for sale following the game. Paul Hatcher and I will be signing copies, and we hope some of the players that were part of the streak will also be willing to sign copies.
But it won’t be just players from the streak team returning for the alumni game.
For instance, Reggie Waddy will be back. When he agreed to return for the game, he wrote to me that he would come out of retirement for one game. Then he sent me the following message: “Lol it’s not the old me though.”
The old Waddy was something special. Paul Hatcher remembered a scrimmage over the Christmas holiday in 1989, when Waddy was dunking at will against Rustburg.
By the time Waddy, who would be named the Group AA player of the year at the end of the season, had thrown down three or four dunks, the Rustburg players were telling each other not to guard Waddy. They wanted to see more of his acrobatics.
Other teams that year weren’t as excited to see Waddy play as he led the Leemen to a 28-0 record and the Group AA state championship, one of four state titles for Paul Hatcher.
When Waddy sent me that message, I responded that none of us are the old us. Still, it’s fun to remember the joy players like Waddy brought Lee High fans. Other players who have committed to the alumni game are Jason Jordan, Lawrence Lightfoot, Adam Huffman, Derrick Fields, Teley Tate and Chris Lassiter, among others.
And there’s still room for more. If you played basketball at Lee High and want to lace up the sneakers for one more game at the school, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just show up Saturday, Oct. 22, ready to play.
There will also be a Lee High basketball memorabilia sale before the game beginning at 1 p.m. with proceeds going to benefit the Lee High team.
But most of all it will be a chance to remember what Paul Hatcher did in his 43 years as the Lee High coach and thank him in person.
“Paul is certainly a legend in the history of Virginia High School League basketball circles,” said Troy Wells, a longtime coach at both Martinsville and Hidden Valley. “When you bring up basketball, he’s one of the first names that you talk about.”
What: Lee Alumni game and release of “The Staunton Streak: Paul Hatcher’s Basketball Dynasty”
When: Saturday, Oct. 22, 2 p.m.
Where: Robert E. Lee High School, Paul Hatcher Gym
More info: facebook.com/thestauntonstreak