They cheered. They danced. They hugged and high-fived each other.
More than 1,200 people gathered at Central Catholic High School on Saturday to celebrate the football team’s second state championship since 2005.
The Fighting Irish defeated defending Division II champion Trotwood-Madison 16-12 on Friday at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
“It’s been a crazy 18 hours, with very little sleep,” Central coach Greg Dempsey told the energetic crowd at the pep rally in the school's Sullivan Center. “It’s a little overwhelming to see so many people.”
Addressing his team, who sat nearby, Mr. Dempsey said: “It’s amazing, what else can you say. You said you were going to win a state championship, and you did it.”
Mr. Dempsey, who told the crowd that he isn’t comfortable speaking in public, concluded his speech prematurely after his voice began to choke with emotion.
Despite the long season, which began with the first day of practice on Aug. 1, Mr. Dempsey said that Monday would be disappointing because he won't see the team at practice.
“It’s really been that much fun,” he said as looked at his team. “You’ve done so much for this school. If I stand up here much longer I’m going to get emotional, and that's just not me.”
It was an emotional afternoon for many at Saturday’s rally.
Bob Rerucha, a 1957 Central graduate, greeted other arriving fans with high-fives and hugs.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Mr. Rerucha, who is 73, said as he struggled to explain his excitement and pride. “It’s just wonderful.”
Varsity cheerleader Kaylin Cleghorn said the entire season was exciting for the squad. “It was so much fun,” said the 16-year-old junior.
Kaylin’s brother Jayson, 14, said he was inspired by the football team’s championship. He was a kicker on the school’s freshman team this season.
“It really makes you want to play harder so that we can win another championship,” he said.
Loud chants of “We’re state champs” filled the high school gymnasium even before the football team was introduced. The sounds of horns, cowbells, and other makeshift noisemakers filled the air.
Spirited performances by the school’s student band and cheerleading squad only increased the crowd’s enthusiasm.
Keith Towbridge, the team’s starting tight end and defensive end, briefly left his seat and began dancing on the gym floor during the pep rally.
“This is a great way to end the season and the year,” said the senior who plans to attend the University of Louisville next fall. “I’m very happy.”