STUARTS DRAFT – When you have a big game between two area rivals, sometimes things can get a little nasty both on and off the court.
When Grace Christian and Ridgeview Christian got together for a boys basketball game on Thursday night, that was certainly not the case.
For Grace, there was the pressure of backing up an impressive season. After a slow start, the Warriors rolled in the second half to take a 59-37 road victory, making them 17-1 on the year.
On the Ridgeview side, it was a chance to turn around a tough season with a big upset. The Crusaders stayed with Grace for 16 minutes before things got away.
Sportsmanship is something that often gets lost in high school sports. That was not the case in this one.
On the court, players went at it hard. There were times when players and coaches alike would get a little emotional, but nothing ever got out of hand.
“It’s more about the character of the individual,” said Grace Christian head coach Don Heishman. “When these guys leave basketball, they’ll learn things on the floor that they can take to their job and to their families. That’s what’s most important.”
Mike Misantone, head coach of Ridgeview Christian, also knows that there are things more important than wins and losses.
“For the team, sportsmanship is right up there at the top,” said Misantone. “It’s about honoring God in the way we perform on the court, how we handle ourselves against opponents and how we handle ourselves when calls are bad. I’ve stressed to these guys that you’re a reflection of your family, the school and your testimony before God.”
The atmosphere is also much different in the stands when the two local schools get together. It all started with a prayer before the National Anthem, but did not end there.
Fans were asked before the game to not make noise while opponents are shooting foul shots. That was never an issue during the contest.
When players were being introduced, many Ridgeview supporters clapped for the Grace players. Warrior faithful did the same when the Crusaders were announced.
The cheerleaders were different. Ridgeview had three young ladies with pom-poms shouting out support from the student section. They were all third-graders.
Halftime even went a little longer, as 10 elementary students from Ridgeview Christian played a basketball scrimmage consisting of a pair of four-minute halves. Nobody seemed to mind waiting the extra time before the start of the third quarter of the varsity game.
It was also refreshing that the parents and supporters in the bleachers showed the same sportsmanship as the players on the court. There was nobody on either side that spent the entire night yelling and screaming about the officials. Everything was very cordial, which, sometimes, is not the case when two public schools meet.
Grace’s Gage Frazier, who played in the past at Stuarts Draft, says he can see a difference playing for a Christian school.
“We play well together,” said Frazier, who had 13 points in the win. “Coach (Heishman) really prepares us for each and every game. I’m really proud of these guys and the way we performed tonight.”
It is a healthy rivalry between the schools that are separated by roughly 15 miles. But the same atmosphere is not always evident against teams from outside the area.
“I’ve heard some of the worst things come from Christian schools that we’ve played,” said Heishman. “(Ridgeview) is great. We have a lot of respect for each other. It’s good healthy competition.”
And the competition was a lot tighter than the final score would indicate. Thanks in large part to 25 points from Jalen Henderson, the Crusaders trailed just 23-21 early in the third quarter. The Warriors would pull away by knocking down six 3-pointers the remainder of the period, including two each by David Wagoner and Daniel Eiker.
The loss dropped Ridgeview to 4-10 on the season.
“I’ve tried to explain to these guys that basketball is just a game,” said Misantone. “This is a blessing to come out here and play. Your identity is not based on how good of a basketball player you are. A lot of kids feel like the world is falling apart if they’re not playing well.”