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The Ultimate Victory

Mar 02, 2012 -- 5:19pm

By: Will Burge

During his first period class at Madison High School on Monday morning, Pat Moran stood lecturing as he always does. Students were still shuffling through their belongings and trying to shake off the cobwebs of the weekend. As Pat spoke to his students he felt a vibration from his pocket.

Ignoring the alert from his cell phone he continued on with the discussion. The phone vibrated again, and again… and again.

Seeing the texts from his wife, his father, and others but not actually reading the messages, his first thought was that something was wrong with his family.

Unbeknownst to him, less than a half hour earlier, a young man entered Chardon high School with a gun and began a shooting spree killing three students and injuring two others.

Chardon High School and Madison High School are 22.5 miles apart. The schools play in the same conference. In fact, the two basketball teams played a game about a week prior to the shootings.

Moran, the head coach of the Madison Varsity boys basketball team, soon found out why people were texting him. As the severity of the situation finally sank in, another reality hit him. His team and Chardon were scheduled to play in the first round of the sectional tournament that night.

“We just knew, we’re not playing a game tonight,” said Moran. “We just took the approach that we will wait for Chardon to decide. We didn’t want to push the issue.”

As Chardon’s entire world came to a screeching halt, Madison’s day continued with a false sense of normalcy.  The team went to practice that evening and had a film session. The subject of the film session was the matchup against the Chardon Hilltoppers just a week or so earlier.

As the team sat and broke down the film of their previous meeting, Moran could not help but notice the open doors in the gym on the game film. Through those very doors was the cafeteria where a young man took the innocent lives of three teens and changed the lives of hundreds others.

“We are watching the tape and the doors to the cafeteria are open. I found myself during the tape thinking, ‘Oh my god, that’s a crime scene’,” said Moran.

Coach Moran felt that his players were surely thinking the very same thing so he stopped the game film.

How can you explain to a room full of teenagers the magnitude of the event they would eventually be a part of? They did not know when and what it would be like, but they knew they would soon walk into a gymnasium and have to try and defeat a team that just suffered the ultimate loss.

Nothing he could say could possibly prepare the students for what they were about to face.

Three days of confusion, anger, and sadness engulfed the city of Chardon. Three days of prayer, sadness, and thoughts from neighboring communities tried to help ease the pain.

In the Euclid High School gymnasium Thursday night, hundreds of fans, family, media, and curious on-lookers patiently waited as the students of Chardon High School tried to regain a sense of normalcy for just one night. The Chardon student section seemed to be teeming with excitement as they finally got to escape from the horror and nightmare that had ravaged their lives.

Inside the Madison locker room, however, the nervous energy was at a fever pitch. The team had planned on wearing black shooting shirts with “Chardon” across the chest. The parent’s club pitched in to purchase them for the team. They had planned on wearing red socks to honor their conference partners. The team had planned to stand, arms interlocked, by the sides of the Chardon players during the National Anthem. They had planned.

The head coach of the Chardon Hilltoppers, Nick Gustin, is a graduate of Madison High School. He was also an assistant under Pat Moran’s brother Matt when he was the head coach of Chardon.

As the students and coaches of Madison sat nervously awaiting their cue to warm-up they wondered if they had done enough. Were they properly paying their respect to the unimaginable loss that their opponents had just faced? Just then, the locker room door opened. It was Nick Gustin.

“He had a great conversation with our players and expressed his gratitude and how proud he was to be a Madison grad with what his former school was doing,” said Moran. “He and I embraced in front of the kids. My kids don’t see too much emotion out of me but we couldn’t help it. When they saw two grown men crying and embracing I think they got a pretty good sense of an idea what they were walking in to.”

After the emotional display in the locker room, the anticipation ratcheted up tenfold. As the door to the locker room opened and the team began to walk towards the gym, the sound from crowd grew louder. Each step the team took was a foot closer to the unknown. Each step was one less moment before they would not be basketball players but symbols of something larger. They continued to walk.

As they ran onto the court in their black shooting shirts and red socks to support the Chardon community, the cheers, tears, TV cameras, and flashes from cameras finally dropped an anvil of reality on the team. This was more important than anything they had ever done.

“I think when we came out of that locker room it hit them square in the face,” said Moran. “Between the cameras and the crowd they realized exactly how big this was.”

The outcome of the game was a 78-59 victory for Chardon. Madison added another tally mark to their loss column for the year and with them trailing by 18 points, it brought to a close their season.

Madison, however, did not lose.

Madison’s season did not come to an end because this game will be remembered forever.

“It wasn’t about us,” said Moran. “The fact that those kids and that community for two hours could have a return to innocence is all that matters. They could finally be kids again.”

For one night, conference rivals were brothers, kids acted as men, scores didn’t matter, and in a week with so much loss, everyone was victorious.

You can listen to Will Burge on 3 Deep, M-F from 7pm-9pm on ESPN 850 WKNR

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