By Darren Lum
A few stood while others remained seated applauding the home team following the lopsided loss.
Few if any fans left before the conclusion of the Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics championship final between the home side’s Red Hawks senior boys’ basketball team and visiting Nicholson Catholic College located in Belleville.
Although Nicholson handily beat the Hawks 58-40 who jumped out to a 17-2 lead by the end of the first quarter the way the fans showed their appreciation was something not lost on the Hawks’ head coach Dave Waito and his players (Devon Bangay Jalen Campbell Travis Carroll Drew Van Lieshout McKay Coneybeare Caleb Schmidt Hunter Smith and Nick Thompson) who inspired everyone that followed the team in their season.
“On a Friday night at 6 o’clock there’s a hundred people to watch is a pretty cool thing” he said.
Even in defeat he said this team will move on from this final in ways more important than the game.
“It’s been a pleasure and an honour working with guys who have been committed like these guys have and they’re all really good young men. I think they’ll do really good things outside of basketball” he said. “Sports isn’t just about winning it’s about building a lot of character and about developing a work ethic that transfers into a lot of other areas of your life … It’s been a special group and a special four years.”
This success was part of a four-year plan that he started with this group back in Grade 9.
He remembers telling them their commitment and the measure of their success will be achieved in Grade 12.
None of the players or him he said imagined “hardware” was part of the success.
The team’s rise was noticed not just here by those closest to the Hawks but in the surrounding area.
“Even around the league not just in the town itself I think we’ve turned some heads and we’ve shown that level of commitment that the boys have shown to the program. It breeds success and it makes real things happen” he said.
Waito received messages from coaches around the league complimenting the team’s ascent to the top of the standings.
Nicholson head coach Tim Coates said his team played well overall in the win.
He credited the home team on offence.
“Give credit to Haliburton some of the things they did offensively caused problems for us” he said.
Nicholson who finished 11-0 in the Bay of Quinte Basketball League and then went undefeated (3-0) in Bay of Quinte playoffs played in AA for close to 12 years before they announced they were dropping to A level of competition a week before COSSA.
This switch proved advantageous as the tougher competition in AA raised their game he said.
Before the COSSA tournament which included junior teams chaos was on order.
Initially this tournament was scheduled for Wednesday Feb. 24 before two successive snow days proved to be the main ingredient for a recipe of trouble. Brock High School’s senior team and St. Thomas Titans junior team were unable to make it because of transportation issues. Brock’s school buses were not running because of a snow day preventing them from coming while the Titans could not hire a bus. Neither came.
Earlier in the day the Hawks beat St. Paul’s Falcons 41-25.
Following this game Nicholson was supposed to have played Brock. With Brock’s absence the gap in the schedule enabled Nicholson to play well-rested for the 4 p.m. COSSA final.
Waito doesn’t want to use the turmoil as an excuse but acknowledges it probably factored.
“The day’s schedule changed quite a bit. I think it played some factor into keeping heads focused. I think at the same time they were there and plugged in and showed in that first game they were ready. It probably had some impact on the first quarter of the game that Nicholson hadn’t had a game today so they were much more well-rested than we were having just finished a hard game … it may have. We’ll never know for sure.”
Waito said the highlight of the season for him came on this day.
“I think getting to a COSSA final … that was our goal from the beginning of the year and to some that might have seemed a lofty goal. I think it didn’t end quite the way we wanted but the guys weren’t hanging their heads in the change room because I think they have a pretty good perspective about what all this has meant” he said.
He adds beating I.E. Weldon Secondary School this season was special. This included the road win which left the Hawks with the best record (7-1) in the Kawartha West Basketball League and the triple overtime win here in Haliburton.
“That’s a team I’ve never beat before this year” he said referring to the perennial contender as a team beat.
Like the T-shirts with “Haliburton Uprising” worn by the Hawks’ players the team is representative of a new movement.
With Tuesday night pick-up basketball having close to 40 people and 60 children ages Grade 3 to 6 out for the Steve Nash basketball program in the spring the sport is coming into its own here.
Before this popularity surge the team was working from a long-term plan which paid off this season and hopefully for the future Waito said.
“Our guys were working from something they had to believe in this plan … it wasn’t tangible. It was abstract right? They had not seen a group go through and be successful in basketball in this way right? They had to believe in something they didn’t really know how it was going to look or how it was supposed to look but … hopefully they gave the junior team this year and those younger guys in the Steve Nash group they’ve given them something to aim towards and look up to right? I think that is a pretty cool thing to say if we can take out of the four years a legacy for Haliburton basketball is a pretty cool thing” he said.
Hawks notes: Co-captain Travis Carroll scored a bucket and was perfect from the line in the first quarter for all of the team’s four points. Point guard McKay Coneybeare lit it up scoring a career high 14 points by sinking four three-pointers and a pair of deuces. Co-captain Hunter Smith led his team with 12 points in the second half and finished with 15 for the game.
The Hawks had a much better second half scoring 24 points and allowing 28.