On the far side of the Charleston Civic Center, about a thousand blue and red clad supporters scream their support.
Many are wearing shirts emblazoned with #Riverstrong on the back. For these fans, tonight is as much about showing a community of resilience as celebrating a team making history.
That’s because last June, flooding devastated much of southern West Virginia, destroying homes, buildings and schools. One of the affected facilities was Herbert Hoover High School, which did not reopen for the 2016-2017 school year. Instead, Hoover now shares a building with Elkview Middle School. The middle school attends in the morning and the high school in the afternoon. But despite these odds, Hoover’s varsity basketball team made it to the final 8 state tournament for the first time in the school’s history.
“I think the one thing that people need to know is – ok we got flooded. We lost our high school. Our kids are going to a half a day of school cramming as many core classes as they can in a certain period of time, practicing basketball in the YMCA and they haven’t missed a beat,” said Joey Robertson, father of Hoover junior Gavin Robertson.
“The one thing I learned through all this is just how resilient students can be and just roll with the punches,” he said. “If it happened it to me, or when it did happen, I was devastated! I mean here you don’t have a high school, what’s your kid going to do? But our kids and our community, they’ve just rolled with it, haven’t let it get them down.”
Hoover was undoubtedly the underdog in Thursday’s game, but senior Chase King said the team came to fight.
“Looking back last year with all the seniors we lost and then over the summer when we lost our school, it was really hard to picture any success this year,” he said.
Both King and Coach Josh Daniels said what makes this team different is how hard the team worked both in and out of season.
“This is probably the toughest bunch of guys who’ve come through the Elk River,” King continued. “I mean so much heart comes through this program and it’s all thanks to these guys.”
On the court, King and the rest of the Huskies are battled it out against Fairmont. It was a tough slog for them. Fairmont was big, fast and strong and the Polar Bears got a couple points early in the game.
At times it seemed like the Huskies might be on the path toward clawing their way back at just five or six points behind. But as the game progressed, the Polar Bears began to build more of a lead.
And then it was over. Fairmont 59, Hoover 39.
For Hoover Principal Michael Kelley, just getting to the state tournament is a testament to the tenacity and resilience of this group of boys, though.
“I think this team – I think that’s one of the reasons – in addition to it being our first state championship team – I think it’s one of the reasons the community is so excited about it – they kind of embody what the community has gone through,” he said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Herbert Hoover High School competed in the sweet 16 state tournament. The school actually competed in the final 8 state tournament.