It was the winter of 2000 when the rousing spirit of our rural community turned all eyes to the basketball court.
With win after win, the high school gymnasium was busting at the seams each time a home game was played. My nephew and the young man who would become my son-in-law were on this team, with another nephew serving as assistant coach to his father, the head coach.
Win after win, some coming with incredible shots at the buzzer, began talks of state ranking. Going undefeated throughout the entire season, people started standing in line for tickets.
“This is the team that just might go all the way to the state championship,” I remember hearing from various people in the know.
With a total of 10 boys, every single player contributed, and improvement of this team continued to grow as the season played out. This past weekend, that team was inducted in to the Ashland County Sports Hall of Fame.
The bus driver
Of course, we were proud of this accomplishment, but what makes me even more impressed about this team is what they asked in regard to their induction. The young men insisted they wished to include the man, now retired, who was their bus driver for every single game throughout their high school career.
“If we’re being inducted, we want to include Vic Kahl, too. He drove us to every single away game, he was with us before and after all 24 games of that season, and he was our biggest fan,” said Joey Brightbill, speaking on behalf of the team at the Hall of Fame banquet.
He described how Vic would strategize plays with them, and after every single away game, they would all say, “Okay, Vic, take us home!”
Vic was a dairy farmer who also drove school bus for our district all of his adult life, serving a grand total of 54 years. He was quick in offering to bus athletic teams to events, even when it meant a very long day for him.
It was a shining moment, thanks to this group of athletes, when Vic walked up front with the team on the night their successful season stood in the spotlight. This home-grown group of country boys, ranked fourth in the state, ended that 2000-01 season with a remarkable 23-1 record.
Their only loss came in the semi-final playoffs as they faced the No. 1 ranked team in the state, Akron-area’s St. Vincent/St. Mary with a young player named Lebron James. Lebron’s team, ranked fourth in the country, ruled the court.
Most people who know basketball have said our team was unstoppable in winning the state championship if they had not encountered Lebron James. For the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, this team also insisted on including the mother of deceased teammate Bryan Tallmadge, who Brightbill described as the fierce spark that lifted the team to victory time after time.
Swinging the momentum
He was the height the team needed, and not only could he run, gun and dunk, he played with such fiery aggression that he managed to swing the momentum of many games at just the right moment.
There were many tears during this memorable induction. The bus driver who carried not only this team, but three generations in our community over his lifetime, stood with quiet pride as he watched the greatest team in the history of our school take their rightful place in the Ashland County Sports Hall of Fame.
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