Columbus dream ends for Windham, but new dream not far behind

By Jim Manion | Correspondent Published:

At this stage of high school basketball tournament action, you expect to see the emotional and fanatical student sections.

They come out in full force, wearing -- and sometimes painted -- in team colors to cheer on their team.

Guarantees can be made that they will stand for the entire game and that one of the first cheers will be: "We believe we can win."

For the Windham kids that were wearing and had painted on the school's signature black and gold on Tuesday inside the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse, their "we believe" chant began before the game even got under way.

As the first period came to a close and Cleveland Villa-Angela St. Joseph had already built a 30-13 lead over their Bombers, the kids chanted the cheer one more time.

As I looked around the Fieldhouse at the end of that first eight minutes, I saw many faithful Windham adults that have followed their team for many years. I am sure many of those fans have been in that arena eight of the last 10 years as Windham represented everyone from Portage County as the true small school cage team with a big dream.

Unfortunately, for most of those fans and myself included, the "we believe" cheer was something we must put on the shelf for next year.

I knew that St. Joe was good, and I was not alone. The Bombers' players and staff and longtime fans knew their beloved team would have to play the perfect game. However, by halftime I was not sure if even the perfect game by Windham could have pulled this one out.

In 1979, I watched Clark Kellogg score 51 points for St. Joe against Columbus East on the floor of St. John Arena in the state semifinals. That St. Joe team was a "AAA" team when only three classes existed. This year's Division IV (with a wink) St. Joe team has more talent than Kellogg's 1979 team, and if they do not win the state title, I will retire from writing.

I have covered Windham basketball for many years, and I know veteran coach Marty Hill's courtside demeanor.

He never takes a seat. Sometimes you might see him on a knee, but usually he is always standing. He gets advice from his assistants, and he always coaches from tip-off until his team is off the court and in the locker room. By the second period Tuesday night, I think Marty realized it was going to be the longest 32-minute game of possibly his entire career.

The fair competition controversy between public and private schools was raised to Hill following the game by another reporter, and he refused to get in that argument stating that was for the newspapers and state officials to fight about.

But I will ask the question.

How many other Division IV schools have five guys over 6-foot-3, and probably a roster that will eventually include a half-dozen or more Division I college players?

I saw about six dunks Tuesday night. Windham had one dunk all season and Hill has never coached a Division I college player in his 38 years.

I feel privileged to say I covered Windham 11 times this season and it truly has been a great ride watching what I consider one of the best teams in recent memory. Hill will never compare his previous teams against each other and even though this team never made a trip to Columbus like three others from Windham, I believe they were possibly just as good.

As Hill pulled his three senior captains -- Matt Knight, Cameron Pozsgai and Jake Viebranz -- off the court in the final minutes of the contest on Tuesday, he gave each one a big hug. The three seniors departed with tears in their eyes, because they truly believed a trip to Columbus was possible.

Knight and Pozsgai had the experience of being on the floor of Value City Arena as managers when Windham made its last trip in 2006.

Basketball will survive in the community of Windham and as the Bombers enter a new league next year, they start with a nucleus of four guys returning from Tuesday night's action.

Jared Taylor will be one of the best point guards in that league. Jonah Konzen will get stronger and bigger and should dominate in the paint. Parker Rickey will continue to dominate in every aspect of the game, while Stephen Kacenski, only 6-2, will dunk for another day.

Those four guys will gather the Windham underclassmen, head off into the summer heat and begin working on another Bomber dream.

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  • Great article Jim. I know that Coach Hill will put together another great team in the near future, but it has to be in the back of every young player coming up through the ranks, that as good as they can become it may never be enough to battle the likes of the types of teams some of these parochial schools can put together. It's not a level playing field and it takes away from the hard work and committment that these young men put themselves through. I know this issue is coming before the state once again and I hope that in some way they can come up with a plan that would help the "true" small schools like Windham.

  • Another great article Jim. !!! Thank You !!