Calendars throughout the area denoted nothing special about March 18. However, at one anxious building on Penn Street in Williamsport, that third Friday in March was indeed a red-letter day. At about the same time, St. John Neumann Regional Academy graduate Kevin Anderson was taking the floor with his Delaware Blue Hens against Villanova in the first round of the NCAA’s March Madness tournament, the SJN students and facility were gathered in their gymnasium for an even more personal madness moment.
The occasion was a rousing pep rally sendoff for the Golden Knights rampaging basketball team that was about to depart to Shamokin for a PIAA Class A semi-final showdown with defending state champion Pottsville Nativity. Words were spoken, cheers were made, and determination was etched on the collective faces of the Neumann faithful.
Meanwhile, in Texas, another face on the Mt. Rushmore of SJN basketball royalty and the first from its school to play in the NBA, Alize Johnson, and his New Orleans Pelicans teammates were in San Antonio to take on the Spurs. His team won. Anderson’s team lost, but both were only hoop entrees to the soup du jour delicacy that the school’s teenage celebrities were about to cook up to the delight of their super-charged fan base.
The Golden Knights have experienced a decade of unparalleled success. They have dominated the Mid-Penn Conference, with only a tie with South Williamsport for last year’s conference crown, blotting a ten-year run of titles. The road to the District IV championship runs right thru their Penn Street playpen. They are beloved by their fans, hyped by their athleticism, stoked by their successes, and bewildering to their opponents. They can also be described as confident, cocky, playful in a pesky sort of way, and obviously very talented.
During a game earlier this season, a large Neumann lead was beginning to dwindle. As an opponent began a drive to the basket, the referee’s whistle blew, signaling a traveling violation. The play happened right in front of the opponent’s bench area. The coaches erupted in displeasure, claiming that Neumann star player Davion Hill had pulled the opponent’s jersey causing the travel to occur. As the coaches argued in vain, looking a bit like the fox caught in the hen house, Hill smiled at the opponent’s bench and confessed, “only a little.”
Although he has had a lot of help, Hill has been the dynamic driving force behind SJN’s run to the state championship game. On that memorable Friday Night, he poured in 39 points as his team gained revenge over the same Pottsville team that had defeated it in last year’s playoffs with a 20-point 82-62 win. That victory punched their ticket to last Thursday’s showdown in Hershey with District Seven’s Bishop Canevin for the PIAA Class A state championship. It came 50 years after the school had last visited Hershey on a similar mission.
The results of that showdown are now well-known, but this space is certainly not the place for those details. As you all know, fellow Webb Weekly scribe Jamie Spencer (you can find him by turning the page) is the coach of the St. John Neumann Golden Knights. As Paul Harvey used to say, give him a read, he’ll be able to fill you in on “the rest of the story,” with a first-hand account of those Hershey happenings.
Looking ahead this weekend in New Orleans, the NCAA’s Final Four will converge in the Crescent City to crown the National Champion. As usual, a lot of brackets were busted in the first weekend of games, with only the West Region Bracket holding firm to the pre-tournament seedings. That bracket quartet of #1 Gonzaga, #2 Duke, #3 Texas Tech, and #4 Arkansas all made it to the Sweet Sixteen, making the prognosticators look good.
Regardless of which team is covered with confetti falling from the rafters come Monday night, the television broadcast will conclude with the airing of what many have called ‘the best song for any sport in the world,’ and now an NCAA staple- One Shining Moment.
The lyrics to the song were written in 1986 by David Barrett while watching TV at an East Lansing, Michigan bar. He was inspired to write the song after watching former Indiana State University and Boston Celtics great Larry Bird play in the NCAA tournament.
To basketball fans, the song is instantly recognizable with the words to its first verse stating, “The ball is tipped and there you are, you’re running for your life, you’re a shooting star, and all the years no one knows, just how hard you worked, but now it shows.”
The song is not played in Hershey or along the PIAA tournament trail. Still, the words it conveys have every right to be shared by St. John Neumann for its memorable tournament run and the quartet of District IV girls basketball teams that gained statewide notice this season. Both Southern Columbia (AA) and Northumberland Christian (A) reached the state finals, while Mt. Carmel and South Williamsport reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals, respectively.
It’s been a great high school hoop season. Congratulations to the players, coaches, fans, and referees who made it possible.