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Published: 3/23/2009

Division I runner-up Start returns to heroes' welcome

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tiffani Blackman shows off the runner-up trophy awarded to the Start High School girls' basketball team. She's with Athletic Director Dan Sanders during welcome-home festivities. Tiffani Blackman shows off the runner-up trophy awarded to the Start High School girls' basketball team. She's with Athletic Director Dan Sanders during welcome-home festivities.
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Lonnie Williams, center, grandmother of Start player Jaime Williams, joins the cheers for the arrival of the team bus. Lonnie Williams, center, grandmother of Start player Jaime Williams, joins the cheers for the arrival of the team bus.
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They're the ones cheering the loudest and waving homemade banners in the bleachers.

So when your talent is rivaled only by a reputation for modesty and gratitude, it's their job to let you know just how good you really are.

Members of the Start girls' basketball team - the Division I state runner-up - meet your die-hard fans.

"You guys are famous now! How many of the girls have ever gone this far?" said fan Elsie Jarrin, who was among several dozen friends, parents, supporters, and schoolmates who gathered Sunday afternoon outside Start High School in West Toledo to welcome the girls home from Columbus.

The City League champion Spartans ended their season Saturday night at Value City Arena with a 52-38 loss to defending champions Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, who have won five state titles in six seasons.

While the defeat snapped the Spartans' 14-game winning streak, rounding out their season record to 22-4, it couldn't mar their accomplishment of becoming the first CL public school girls team since 1981 to reach the state Final Four.

"We were pretty upset," said junior Tiffani Blackman. "But you know, we were still happy because we did have a great season."

Their chartered bus pulled up at about 1 p.m. Sunday to the front of the school, where the crowd gathered among a row of bike racks festooned with green and gold balloons and "welcome home" banners.

The crowd broke into cheers and applause as All-Ohioan Yolanda Richardson emerged bearing the team's shiny new trophy. Members of the school band burst into Start's alma mater and fight song.

The girls filed out of the bus, and at the behest of parents, posed for many photos with their hard-earned trophy. Principal Elizabeth Wray couldn't say enough about how proud she was of the team.

"For a public school to make it all the way to the final two, it's pretty remarkable," Ms. Wray said. "And they are really good, good, good girls - humble girls, sweet girls - and they're kind. We had a couple of send-offs for them, and they said, 'Thank you' to everything. They are very sweet."

Yolanda, a 6-foot-1 left-hander who will play on scholarship next season for the University of Toledo, said that she and her teammates appreciated the warm welcome.

"It feels good to know that we still have got fan support, even though the season's over now," the senior said. "It was a long journey and we had fun. It was a great experience. I'm sad it's ending."

The girls said they were all fairly exhausted, having played hard during their tournament games and not returned to their hotel until late the previous night. Their principal expressed sympathy, but reminded them that Monday is a school day.

"If I could give them a snow day, I would," she said with a laugh.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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