LOOGOOTEE — In March, the Loogootee boys basketball team won its first state championship, and now the Lions will have its own banner.
The reigning Class A state champion Lions will unveil the banner honoring last year's state championship team prior to today's varsity game against Washington at Jack Butcher Arena.
When Loogootee defeated Rockville, 55-52, March 24 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, coach Mike Wagoner accomplished a goal that had alluded Lions players and coaches for decades.
Wagoner himself suffered heartbreak in the state tournament trying to reach that goal during his time as a player for Loogootee under Hall of Fame head coach Jack Butcher.
"We've been close a lot, four or five times," Wagoner said. "We were a state finalist in 1970, and it was a neat experience in 1975, I was a sophomore on that team. To me with the one-class system, it meant so much, but now with the class system it's all the kids know. It's just exciting to win a state championship, it's meant a lot to all the fans, they've been waiting for it for years. It's almost like everyone had a sigh of relief that we finally got one." Now looking back at his playing days from a different perspective, Wagoner appreciates all that it took to complete the journey. Wagoner appreciates the fact that coaching this team in this town is something he always strived to do, and now that he¹s doing it, it¹s a truly satisfying feeling.
"I love the fact that the Lion legacy, and the way the Loogootee players are, they have a certain way they play around here, and they never changed," Wagoner said. "We do things fundamentally the right way, and I've always wanted to be a part of that. I'm so thankful that I could be on Coach (Jack) Butcher's staff for so many years. It's one of those things where this is what I wanted to do, and I've been doing it for 27, 28 years. A lot of people can't say they love what they do, and I've been lucky." The current players returning from last year's state championship- winning team realize that this is an honor that will not just be experienced and celebrated by the players last year's team.
In Loogootee, the boys basketball program is a sense of pride for the entire town.
Wagoner explained that he is constantly in contact with former Lions players, some his former teammates.
"Even the players that played in the 1970s, there were a bunch of them at the state final game," Wagoner said. "I've got emails and text messages from players about how they are very produd of the Loogootee family. Every player that has ever played for Loogootee is part of that state championship, they've all put in blood, sweat and tears to get Loogootee where it is. Even the players from 30 years ago, they were so excited that we finally got it." When Loogootee celebrates this accomplishment Friday, they will be matched up against a team that knows a thing or two about winning Indiana state championships. The Hatchets, with the help of the three Zeller brothers (Luke, Tyler and Cody) won the Indiana Class 3A state championship four times between 2005 and 2011. Wagoner said it is just a coincidence that they are hosting Washington for this special night, but it was the only night that everybody could be in attendance.
The biggest challenge for the Lions going forward is, now that they have gotten to the top of the mountain, figuring out how to stay there. Thus far this season, they are exactly where they need to be. Looogootee has posted a 7-0 record, and hold the No. 1 ranking in Class A.
"Hard work, being humble about what we did, and not letting it get to our heads," Wagoner said. "We talked about that the first day of the open gym in the spring about how yeah we are state champs, but we have to go out and work extra hard because everyone is going to work extra hard to try to knock us off. Loogootee is used to that. When you beat Loogootee, you have accomplished something. We have to work extra hard. We need to take more shots in practice, we have to work harder on defense and get better physically. It¹s one of those things where you have to go back to work."