BROWNSVILLE – The most recent Class AA boys’ basketball champions in Tennessee sat in two rows on a stage at the end of their gym at Haywood High School.
In front of them, Haywood County school deputy superintendent Vincent Harvell noted several of the school’s past stars, starting a few decades back and working his way through the 90s and 2000s.
A lot of good basketball players have graduated from Haywood High School, and Harvell wanted to salute the players who built the Tomcat tradition.
“But these Tomcats …” Harvell said, pausing for applause and cheers. ” … These Tomcats have achieved what no other Tomcat has done. They brought home the gold ball.”
That gold ball sat on a table at the center of the court, but they players and coach Kendall Dancy seated on one baseline were the center of attention at Haywood’s state championship celebration Tuesday night.
Supported by larger crowds than many participating schools, Haywood beat Carter, Christ Presbyterian Academy and Fulton last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Murfreesboro.
Brownsville and the other towns around it are small, and a clear theme of the ceremony was how much athletic success at the local high school means to residents in small towns.
“I have never in my life been prouder of where I am from than I have been the past few days,” Dr. Jerry Pyron, the school’s principal, said.
Tuesday’s gathering was quite a bit more comfortable than the over-capacity sectional game against South Side, when people were sitting or standing anywhere there was space.
But there were still several hundred people in attendance, and they cheered as government officials, school leaders and others recounted last week in Murfreesboro.
Athletic director Tim Seymour credited Dancy and the players for handling the end of last season nicely, when they were undefeated until two late losses ended their season earlier than expected.
Team radio announcer Greg Vanstory bragged about how the Tomcats proved doubters wrong (“I was sick and tired of hearin’ about CPA,” he said to cheers.) The team also received a key to the city from Brownsville mayor Bill Rawls, Jr., (himself a Haywood grad) and later on a short letter of congratulations from governor Bill Haslam was read.
Senior Alandis Delk underestimated the fanbase’s response.
“I didn’t know it was going to get this big,” he said.
Coach Kendall Dancy, who grew up in Haywood County and then played for the Tomcats in the early 1990s, was busy giving handshakes and hugs to supporters young and old.
“I think they said on The Wizard of Oz there’s no place like home, and that remains true,” Dancy said. “I absolutely love my home county and the people here are wonderful. No better place in the world for me than Haywood County.”
This Haywood team consisted heavily of seniors, so it’ll be tough for the Tomcats to build toward similar success right away. But locals hope the newer Tomcats will work toward another state title as the current ones did.
“You guys did it with dignity, class and respect,” Rawls said.
Craig Thomas, 425-9634