HAMLER, Ohio - A day after the Patrick Henry football team joined the prestigious company of Division V state champions, the Patriots were the talk and toast of the town.
The Patriots, who rocked and rolled their way through opponents for 15 consecutive wins this season, received a hero's welcome yesterday afternoon from loyal Patriots followers, many of whom had attended the championship game Friday afternoon in which the Patriots defeated Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 42-30 at Canton's Fawcett Stadium.
A few hundred Patriots fans, friends, and family members awaited the team's return from Canton inside the Patrick Henry gym. Most were already wearing state championship T-shirts and sweatshirts that had been preordered by an optimistic Patrick Henry athletic boosters organization.
They clapped and cheered when the Patriots finally arrived after being escorted into town by a local fire engine.
"It's so exciting," said Val George, mother of Ben George, a junior defensive back. "They started preparing for the season way back in June and they've worked so hard. We're just so proud of them."
Patriots senior center Bill Vance, who had his hands wrapped around the championship trophy, led the team's march into the gym as the song "Celebration" blared over the sound system. The coaches and players, all wearing state championship T-shirts, were met by a standing ovation from the crowd.
The gathering, which included the Patriots cheerleaders leading the crowd in singing the school fight song, brought plenty of smiles to the faces of the Patriots, particularly head Coach Bill Inselmann, quarterback Zack George, and wide receiver Marc Krauss.
"This means so much to Patrick Henry and our community," Mr. Inselmann said of bringing a state title back to the area he grew up in.
Perhaps no moment brought more smiles and laughs than when Mr. Inselmann said haircuts are finally in store for the Patriots, who have established a tradition of not getting haircuts during the season until they suffer a loss.
Zack George's long, bushy locks, in particular, have become nearly as defining of him this season as his passing prowess.
"We worked hard and had a lot of fun, but when it was business time we did our business," the Patriots quarterback said. "This is a dream come true."
It's a moment in time that young Krauss, who caught eight passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game, expects to never forget. "We're on top of the world," he said. "To the coaches, this is for you. You've been here 15 years and you've finally got one."
Patrick Henry Principal Gregg Pettit's words toward the players best expressed what the gathering was all about.
"Guys, great job," Mr. Pettit said. "You'll remember this for the rest of your life."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6302.41.23151 -84.03246