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Evanston celebrates student-athletes

Modified: Friday, Mar 15th, 2013

The 2013 Wyoming 4A basketball champions — the Evanston Red Devils. Photo by Jenny Welling

EVANSTON — Just like last year, following the state championship, an impromptu parade through town and celebration rally at the Red Devils’ gym were orchestrated for Sunday, March 10, with the arrival of all four of Evanston’s teams that competed at state and won awards.

A combined police and fire department escort met up with the four school buses near exit 10 on I-80, to usher the EHS cheerleaders, Classics, Lady Red Devils and Red Devils back into town, complete with flashing lights and sirens. Fire trucks were on standby on the east end of town, where the buses pulled in to allow the student athletes to get off the buses and climb aboard the fire trucks, to enhance the visibility of the kids in their victory parade through Evanston.

From the east end of town, where fans had gathered and cheered the teams as they boarded the fire trucks, the parade began, with the teams of front, followed by the buses and a long line of well-wishers in their vehicles, sirens a-blaring and horns a-honking. The parade continued down Bear River Drive, turning left to go over the overpass, hanging a right on Front Street, proceeding to Harrison Drive, turning left on Main Street to pass through downtown Evanston and onto Sixth Street, then continuing up Sixth to Cheyenne Drive and finally to Red Devil Drive, ending in the north parking lot of the Evanston High School.

Fans turned out all along the route, and many joined the assembly at the school. The parade’s end was met with cheering, photo ops, hugs and high-fives in the parking lot on a beautiful day, before the team and the crowd of fans headed into the gym.

School administrators and honored guests

UCSD No. 1 activities director Bubba O’Neill, also the head coach of last year’s state title Red Devils team, served as the emcee, and opened the festivities while the crowd gathered, enjoying some choice and appropriate musical cuts provided by Kevin Kallas, including, “The Boys Are Back In Town,” from Thin Lizzy, and Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”

O’Neill offered praise and gratitude to all who volunteered their time and efforts to successfully stage the victory parade and celebration rally, along with thanking parents, Red Devils booster clubs, the student body, fans, coaches and school administrators, for all of their time, effort and support, all season long. O’Neill’s primary message was directed to honorees — the student-athletes all seated together on the bleachers at one end of the gym. “We sent four teams to Casper to compete at state, and all four brought home hardware,” which prompted an eruption of applause and cheers.

Evanston mayor Joy Bell was again on hand to offer her congratulations, on behalf of the city of the Evanston. Bell, an accomplished athlete in her day, described the feelings that come along with winning, and how “there’s nothing else like it.” The Evanston mayor expressed being honored to again be a part of the celebration.

“We’ve been a small school in the big league for a long time now,” Bell told the crowd in attendance. “There’s a special pride in the community of Evanston, and a special pride in being a Red Devil, and boy, am I happy and proud to be back here on the Sunday following the state championship, with the police and fire department escorts, celebrating another state championship. How great is that?”

A fantastic round of applause ensued. Bell also had kind words for and issued congratulations to the other teams.

Superintendent Ryan Thomas offered an important distinction most everyone would agree with.

“I watched a lot of basketball this weekend and had a great time. I witnessed some unbelievable individual performances, but what I saw with you,” directing his comments to the Red Devil teams, “was a team. You played as a team, and you won. Some of those amazing individuals received accolades, but went home empty-handed. You came home as winners, because you played as a team.”

Thomas praised the Evanston players, cheerleaders, coaches, parents and fans, comparing what he witnessed in those same groupings from other communities.

“Evanston is a class act,” Thomas said. “Parents, you should be proud of the way your kids conduct themselves in competition and in the stands, and the same goes for you and all of our fans.”

Superintendent Dr. James Bailey was unable to attend the state tournament, but passed along an amusing anecdote of receiving updates from his children at the games at times, and in other instances, from an online program, which would refresh every 30 seconds. “We were on the road in California, and the game was tied, and while waiting for the update to refresh, I’m asking, ‘What happened? What happened?’ I about ran off the road in excitement when I found out we had won.”

“One of the things we talk about all the time in our district,” Bailey explained, “is this idea of effort leading to success, and I believe all four teams we sent to state emulated that ideal. I just want to add my congratulations. Great job!”

“Awesome, that’s all I can say, is awesome,” Evanston High School principal Doug Rigby began. “I was so proud, so very proud to represent Evanston High School this year. There is such a sense of pride that comes with supporting you, representing you and just being a part of what you do.”

Rigby spoke of the fun in watching the EHS cheerleaders and Classics compete, and enthusiastically described both the boys and girls basketball teams as ”so fun to watch.” Rigby poked a bit of fun at O’Neill for understating the nerve-racking nature of the close, overtime games for the Red Devils on Thursday and Friday, which got the crowd laughing. The principal praised the student body for their spirited and unwavering support, citing the students who attended as outstanding representatives of Evanston, and had them stand and be recognized.

“Congratulations to all of our teams, to their sponsors and to their parents,” Rigby summarized. “What a fantastic finish to an awesome winter sports season. Thank you, Evanston.”

Cheerleaders and Classics

Chris Welling, the EHS cheerleading coach and director, next addressed the crowd.

“I don’t know how many of you know this about the cheerleaders, but we begin our practices in the summer. We work all year long toward going to state, hoping we place and hoping we do well. We hope that it goes smooth, but sometimes we have bumps in the road. We had some setbacks, but these 18 girls really pulled together as a team. They found out when you work as a team, things go a lot better. While the players are on the court, especially in those nail-biter games and those overtimes, I think our hearts are beating just as hard as the players, because we want the win just as bad.”

“We have a great student body we really appreciate,” Welling continued. “The parents are great; they helped us in the stands. We love to be involved, and I think we should be proud of all of our kids, all of our teams. These teams [referring to the boys and girls basketball teams, the Classics and her cheerleaders] and all the others throughout the entire year, represent Evanston High School and the community very well, so go Red Devils!”

Welling’s speech, like those which preceded and followed, all received rousing rounds of applause, in the post-State Sunday celebration of all things Red Devils.

Classics Director Janice Davis was next.

“I just never do this, and I’m shaking, but I do want you to know how proud I am of my Classics,” Davis said. “They have worked so hard. I’m not sure you realize how many hours they’ve put in. We do two-a-days, and sometimes those two-a-days could be five hours at one session. They represented Evanston wonderfully in their competition on Wednesday, and they did perform at state three other times.”

“Like Chris’ cheerleaders,” Davis continued, ”these girls start practice at 5:55 in the morning. They start in June. They’ll get a little break now, and then be ready to start again, but I’m going to miss my seniors. I love you, you’ve been with me for four years. I’m going to miss you, and I want you know how proud I am of you.”

“I’m proud of everybody here,” Davis concluded, addressing the assembly of the Red Devils and Lady Red Devils basketball teams, along with the EHS cheerleaders and Classics.

Davis explained how parents, fans and all of the teams “came together as one” at a roller skating party into the wee hours, following the Red Devils’ state championship win. Davis had previously explained to the Herald how the roller skating party was a tradition for her girls, but this year marked the first time all of the other teams joined them. The Classics coach further elaborated how duly impressed the staff of the Casper facility was with the unity demonstrated by Evanston, and took a group picture for their website.

Basketball coaches

Lady Red Devils head coach Scott Ehlers relayed a story from a previous coaching stint where, when his team was playing for the championship, fans from other teams were throwing things and “calling us names.”

”They were rude suckers,” Ehlers stated, which elicited laughter from the gathering.

The coach then contrasted watching games from this tournament, noting how spirited and supportive, yet well-behaved, the fans were.

“It was cool to see fans being respectful and having fun. Just having a good time, because that’s what it’s all about, in the end. In reference to these girls,” Ehlers continued, pointing to his team, “I told them last night, ‘Last year we turned a corner,’ because we’d finally won a game at state; it had been a long time.”

The coach then spoke of inquiries from the media, asking him what he thought. “Well, we’re going in to win, we’re going to play.”

Ehlers then described this year’s team, “being on a curve,” then added, “About two weeks before the tournament, I thought the curve was gone. But they stepped up, they filled in. We had two key injuries the first night. Others stepped in and battled, and my assistant coaches kept me sane. It was just a fun time. I just want to thank our kids, all the fans, the administrators, anyone who had something to do with this, because it is just a fun time, and it’s great to bring hardware home [referring to the Lady Red Devils’ Consolation Championship trophy]. It was time.”

In the midst of cheering, Ehlers handed the microphone to Red Devils boys head coach, Roy Barker, who began by yelling a statement ending with “Red Devils,” which brought heightened levels of cheering. Barker requested the honorees to stand, and the thunderous applause continued.

“Our kids are quite amazing. Evanston was represented well. For those of you who did not go, shame on you, because you missed out,” which brought about more laughter, with Barker encouraging all in attendance to make the state basketball tournament “a trip you make every year.”

Barker opined his belief that, “our kids are amazing to watch,” interjecting descriptive words, including “awesome,” “fantastic” and “amazing,” while congratulating all of Evanston’s teams on their performances. He poked some good-natured fun at assistant coach Jeremy Fessler and Red Devils senior Jemini Leckie.

“I’m so proud of these guys. What a season it’s been for them. Let’s just say we hit a few bumps in the road,” Barker stated, reflecting on a point in the midseason where Evanston did not play well, then asserted how the Red Devils fought through it and became a team. Barker acknowledged the words from O’Neill and Superintendent Ryan Thomas, with his appreciation to both for recognizing the Red Devils’ success came about when they became and played, “as a team.”

“This is a great way for me to start my career, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of young men to accomplish what we did together,” Barker shared.

The coach noted state championships are rare and special, and closed by complimenting the fan base and thanking everyone who supported all of Evanston’s teams at state.

O’Neill thanked everyone for attending, and asked the cheerleaders to lead the crowd in an “EV-AN-STON, E-V-A-N-S-T-O-N, E-V-A-N-S-T-O-N, EV-AN-STON” cheer to end the celebration rally, which they happily obliged. Most fans stuck around to capture memories in photos, and to extend their individual congratulations once the ceremony concluded.

It was a sensational Sunday for Red Devils everywhere.

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