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Published: Wednesday, 3/12/2008

Team gives Libbey positive mind-set

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
"L" is for Libbey for Cowboys, from front left, Jessica Wojciechowski, Jasmine Boyd, Dionna Rose, and Ikeya Birdsong; second row, Dannielle Gonzalez, Cierra Smith and Lauren Cook, and back, Alfred Gardner II and Quvondo Davis. "L" is for Libbey for Cowboys, from front left, Jessica Wojciechowski, Jasmine Boyd, Dionna Rose, and Ikeya Birdsong; second row, Dannielle Gonzalez, Cierra Smith and Lauren Cook, and back, Alfred Gardner II and Quvondo Davis.
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Among the many things the Libbey boys basketball team will play for tomorrow in its Division II state semifinal game, one item is bragging rights.

Not for the team itself, so much, but for the school's student body in general.

"A lot of people think Libbey is a bad school and only bad people go here," said Jessica Wojciechowski, a senior at the school and a big Cowboy hoops fan. "But with the team winning, it brings a positive spotlight on us where people can see we get good educations and have good sports teams too."

When Libbey (23-2) takes the floor against St. Paris Graham (26-0) at Ohio State University's Value City Arena at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow, the Cowboys will hope to move one step closer to the first boys basketball state championship in school history.

Prizes and vindication are generally awarded following sporting contests, but Libbey students, faculty and staff already feel like they've won this season.

Closed out of Toledo Public Schools' master facilities plan because of sagging enrollment figures, Libbey stands by as students at Rogers, Start, Bowsher, and Woodward high schools either currently study in new school buildings or will do so by the end of 2012.

While those four TPS institutions, as well as Scott High School, were selected for new buildings or renovations paid for with state funds, Libbey administrators and teachers fear their building will be closed in four or five years.

Students there congregate in a school built in the early 1920s, with additions built on in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, according to Libbey administrators. It's those same administrators who say their school's reputation has been sullied not only by outdated facilities, but by the students who transferred out of Libbey because of the school's condition.

Can a good basketball season - even the best of seasons - change all that at Libbey? Administrators there hope so.

"There's a question in the community about why you should send your child here or what is going on here," said Howard Brown, one of Libbey's six administrative school leaders, a system that takes the place of one principal. "This basketball team is a good example of what's going on here. Now hopefully people will see what else is going on."

Brown and some of his colleagues point to the boys basketball team as an example of improvements in Libbey's classrooms.

Gayle Schaber, another Libbey school leader, said 75 percent of the basketball team made the honor roll the first and second quarters this school year, meaning those student athletes carried at least a 3.0 grade-point average. She said some of the credit for those grades belongs to coach Leroy Bates, who insists that any player with a GPA under 3.0 keep a short haircut.

"The basketball team around here is always good and usually the focal point of the school," said Terry Jackson, also a school leader. "But this year is different. The kids are different."

The team definitely has a star, co-Division II player of the year and Ohio State recruit William Buford, but several students who spoke to The Blade said Buford is not the only reason they love their Cowboys.

Dionna Rose, a junior cheerleader, said the Cowboys are a true definition of a team.

"That's why we're all so proud of them," she said. "They play together."

Ikeya Birdsong, a senior, goes to just about all the Cowboys' games because, well, basketball is in her blood. Her mother, Debra Turner, played on Libbey's girls team that won the state title in 1982. Birdsong's brother, Dominique Turner, was on the boys team that lost in the state finals in 2000.

She said she's excited about the team's success this year not only because of her roots, but because: "I've grown up with most of the guys on the team."

Alfred Gardner, a senior who makes occasional appearances as the team's mascot, said this year's season is one he'll always remember.

"I'm just so excited to be a part of this. It's my senior year," Gardner said. "Years from now, I'll be talking about when we won state my senior year."

Indeed, hopes and pleasant memories for many have been built by the Libbey basketball team this year, and wins tomorrow and Saturday in the state championship would build even more.

None of this is lost on Bates, the man who coaches the Cowboys.

Echoing the sentiments of school administrators, Bates said the hope is that his team's success will convince younger students to one day enroll at Libbey, which would boost the school's enrollment over its estimated figure of between 800-900 students, and perhaps make the school a candidate for state funding and new facilities.

He also knows how important his season has been for the students who will graduate before Libbey has a new building - or closes forever.

"It's been a rallying point for people in the Libbey community," Bates said. "A rallying point for those who want to see this school and its rich history continue."

Contact Joe Vardon at jvardon@theblade.com


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