The whooping cheers, celebratory signs, and ample crowd Saturday made one thing clear: Toledo loves its championship-winning Lady Rams.
Rogers High School girls basketball players were feted with a parade through the streets of downtown Toledo and a rally at Promenade Park, where they basked in the admiration of their ardent and vocal fans.
The team won the Division II state championship game March 17 in Columbus with a 51-37 victory against Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, Ohio. First-team all-state guard Zia Cooke scored 33 points, sealing the first girls basketball state title for a Toledo team since 1981.
“I want to thank you for all of the Toledo support,” said Miss Cooke, a junior point guard who also thanked her coaches, teammates, and parents. “Toledo may be a small city, but our fan base is bigger than most. Man, it’s a blessing to be a state champion in 2018.”
Miss Cooke teared up when talking about her grandmother, who died late in the team’s season.
“She was my drive to do better, and she still is my drive to be a better person in life,” she said. “I made this promise to her, and I kept it.”
Rogers head coach Lamar Smith reveled in his team’s underdog status.
"They said we couldn't bring this home, we've been hearing it: Rogers is done, Toledo can't win a state championship,” he said. “Well, we proved them wrong. I'm very proud of these ladies.”
Those who spoke Saturday highlighted not only the players’ athletic successes but also their status as role models for younger students.
“It’s important as a city that we celebrate our successes; that we have pride in Toledo, pride in TPS, pride in where we come from,” said Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant. He lauded the girls’ success on the court and in the classroom.
“Our ladies represent what Toledo is all about,” he said. “The minute they begin to think they can count us out we continue to keep fighting ... these are our leaders today, our leaders tomorrow, and more importantly [they’re] leading the city of Toledo as we move to the future.”
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz presented the team with a key to the city and congratulated the players and coaches.
“For an occasion this historic and a moment this important, we’re going to go to the big guns,” he said as he presented the key. “Post it with pride and — no pressure — let’s do this again next year.”
Members from the 1981 Libbey High School team were on hand to celebrate the next generation of champions.
“They are going to have a lifetime of memories,” said Ann Strong, a center forward and class of 1981. “We still talk after 37 years about our state championship win. They have a lot to look forward to and talk about for years to come. It’s a great feeling.”
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