NEWBERRY – Members of the community gathered together in Memorial Park Sunday to celebrate the first Newberry High School girls’ basketball state championship win in the history of the school. The celebration was hosted by the City of Newberry.
The Lady Bulldogs defeated Ridgeland-Hardeeville 57-50 on Saturday, March 3, at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
“There are over 200 teams playing high school basketball this year and they all set out to win the state championship,” said Mayor Foster Senn. “We are proud to say that you’ve done this for Newberry.”
Al de Lachica emceed the event Sunday. De Lachica is the announcer on WKDK Radio for Newberry High School basketball games and called the state championship game for the Lady Bulldogs.
“For my seven years of broadcasting games, I have been to the state championship all seven of those years – either for the boys or girls team,” De Lachica said. “Thank you for bringing us together as a community like this.”
Several local officials and members of the community were invited to say a few words to the Lady Bulldogs, including Rep. Rick Martin.
Martin said the team had practiced to reach the pinnacle of success to where they were today.
“You know these young ladies embody integrity, dedication and perseverance,” Martin said. “They went through trails, turmoil’s and mental anguish.”
Another representative told Martin last week that they had never seen anything like it, comparing the team to sunshine in a hurricane – walking out onto the court smiling and happy, and leaving with nothing following the game but desolation.
County Councilman Travis Reeder congratulated the basketball team for the first ladies state championship in Newberry High School history, saying they took adversity and made it power for themselves.
“I’d like to thank the coaches for not only coaching these ladies, but teaching them valuable life lessons,” Reeder said. “And to the parents, for the days upon days of picking up and dropping them off and for talking with them when they thought they may not have played well.”
Reeder said this was a day that would go down in the books. County Council will also be honoring the basketball team on Wednesday, March 21 at 7 p.m.
On behalf of the Newberry County School Board, Jody Hamm and Clyde Hill shared their congratulations to both the players and coaches.
“We are glad to have you all in our school district, our classrooms and in our hearts,” Hamm said.
Senn, along with members of Newberry City Council read and presented a proclamation to Newberry High School Coach Melissa Mendenhall and congratulated her for the team’s success. City Councilman Lemont Glasgow told the community that two signs would soon be placed along Highway 219 and 121 recognizing the state championship win.
Newberry High School Principal Kyle Cannon said as a former coach himself, he understood the time that went into something like this. Cannon thanked the coaches for the many hours spent away from loved ones and their own kids, and putting their efforts into the team. Cannon also thanked the players for their many hours of practice and the school board for their support.
Denny Koenders, publisher of The Newberry Observer, as well as Andrew Wigger, editor, presented the basketball team with a framed copy of the front page of the newspaper with the announcement of the state championship win.
“We want to present you with a piece of history for a job well done,” Koenders said.
As a coach, Mendenhall has won six region titles and 160 games in her career. De Lachica asked Mendenhall what the championship win meant to her personally as a coach.
As the final seconds ran off the clock, Mendenhall said the game from last year crossed her mind and she hoped that this year’s ending would turn out differently.
“I just put all of my faith in the girls and they carried us in,” Mendenhall said. “Once they knew what we wanted and believed in it, we persevered.”
The team went through a large trial towards the end of their season with Rayanna Davis, senior, getting hurt in a car accident. After the accident, morale for the team could have gone either way, Mendenhall said, but instead she was surprised to see how much the team came together.
“To have something like that happen; it wasn’t about the game of basketball anymore, it was about the life of a young lady,” Mendenhall said. “I wasn’t really sure what practice would be like after that, but the girls’ mood was so high. They said ‘we’re going to do this for Ray.’”
DJ Humble, or Dexter Senn, called each of the team members up on stage Sunday just as they would be called out onto the basketball court.
Lindsey Ruff, senior, said throughout the last few minutes of the game, all she could think was ‘I just knew I had to come through for my team to pull out the final win for Rayanna.’
Davis also spoke and said she was worried that her accident would cause her teammates to be sad and not as focused on the game, because they didn’t think she would be there. However, Davis surprised her teammates by showing up to the championship game.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, I wanted them to just see me there,” Davis said. “When the seconds ran off the clock, I couldn’t do anything but cry – I was so happy.”
Following the celebration, members of the community were invited for light refreshments and to take pictures with members of the team.