CLAYTON — It’s something that happens most every season for any high school athletic team in competition and yet when the Cleveland basketball teams played host to Southern Wayne Thursday night, it was a historic gathering.
For the nine seniors who would more than likely suit up for their last home game, it was the first Senior Night in the school’s basketball program’s short history.
For any group of seniors, the emotions associated with the finality of a high school career can be overwhelming but for six players on the boys basketball team and three members of the girls squad, being the first to do was extra special.
“It’s been amazing,” point guard Monique Torres said as she reflected back on her past three years playing basketball for the Rams. “It’s surreal that we are the first group to graduate from this school.”
Along with Torres, Courtney Ireland and Jasmine Richardson also played in their last home game.
The camaraderie developed between the three players very much evident as they walked out of their locker room together for the last time as players, Richardson and Ireland pointed to the relationships they developed and cultivated as being extremely important in a brand new school.
“Coming from a school where we’re just starting out, I think makes us a lot closer because nobody knew each other,” Ireland said. “Coming out here, we’ve come so far and gotten so close on and off the court. It was really a great experience.”
For the girls team, a win on senior night sweetened the deal a bit as it served as a symbolic nod to what the future of Cleveland basketball could hold.
“This is our 38th win, which is phenomenal for a program that had no players three years ago,” girls’ basketball coach Chris Danehower said. “You get everybody’s best shot because they think they’re going to beat up on the new school.”
Before the tip-off of the girls game against the Saints, the Cleveland underclassmen, without prompting, publicly thanked the outgoing trio for setting a great example and helping to prepare the freshmen, sophomores and juniors for the rest of their high school careers.
It’s that same idea of a foundation being built for the program by the outgoing group of seniors that boys’ basketball coach John Jacobs sees as being the most important contribution of his half dozen seniors: Dylan Finn, Austin Jacobs, Gilbert King, A.J. McCray, Jesse Olmstead and Kodi Whitley.
“The kids who are coming back next year, I hope they learned a lot this year,” Jacobs said. “The seniors have been pushing us and working hard in practice and the jayvee players and juniors have looked up to them. Hopefully this will be something to build on for the future.”
It’s a future that the nine Ram athletes will always have an important role in, no matter where their post graduate lives lead them, and the pride that comes from playing such an integral role in the program did not go unnoticed.
“It’s really meant a lot,” Gilbert King said of being part of the first wave of Rams. “I love this team and the coaches and I wish I had another year to do this again.
“It’s a great program and I would advise anyone to come to this school and play basketball.”
And anyone who does will always have the first group of seniors to thank for paving the way. Such was the impact of the first Rams.