By RANDY TATANO
Special to Atmore News
Being the second best boys basketball team in Alabama is still something to brag about.
While the Escambia High Blue Devils didn’t win the final game of the season, the players can hold their heads high knowing they made it to the state championship for the first time in the school’s history.
Principal Amy Cabaniss is incredibly proud of the team and said their season has really united the community. “It was a great journey and a historic time for both the students and alumni. We’ve never made it that far.”
And locals really appreciated their efforts. “Win or lose, the community wants to have an event to celebrate the season.”
And sometimes it’s the journey teaches you a lot about the destination. Though making it to the state championship game, Cabaniss said none of the players ever got “a big head.” Perhaps most surprising was the modesty of the players, who didn’t even want a pep rally or a sendoff before the big game. An offer to charter transportation was also politely turned down in favor of a school bus, as the students opted to “ride the cheese wagon” to the Birmingham final.
Turns out that wasn’t the only reason to forego a rally and sweet ride. “Superstition,” said team captain Sheldon Williams. “We did that last year and got knocked out in the first round.”
Williams, a senior currently being recruited by eight colleges, said being in the championship was, “Nerve racking. Just being on the big stage.” He admitted making it to the final was a surprise. “I’ll be honest, we didn’t think we’d make it this far.” The Blue Devils started the season shorthanded, with two key players out until mid-season. Then they took off on a playoff run.
It wasn’t easy for Head Coach Layton Knight, who had to balance Air Force Reserve duty with the schedule. Knight, who was a guard at Atmore and then West Alabama, had worked at the middle school until this year. To go to the state championship in his first year heading the Blue Devils is a major accomplishment. “I knew we were going to be good, but to be the first one to take them to the big game was great.” His coaching philosophy is simple: “I have expectations of them and hold them accountable.” After the championship game he tried to instill a sense of pride in the players. “I told them to look at the big picture, we made history.”
While the team didn’t have the Hollywood ending like the classic movie, the ride to the top was definitely a sweet one.
Brewton resident Randy Tatano is a veteran TV news reporter and network producer, and is currently a novelist and freelance writer for the Escambia County School System.