Original article was featured in the Tampa Bay Times.
The buzzer sounded, ending the game and a drought. Within seconds, the bench emptied as players and coaches stormed the Lakeland Center court, all united in a group hug.
Sickles High’s boys basketball team won something that had eluded Hillsborough County public school programs for 35 years: a state title.
The Gryphons did it by beating Tallahassee Lincoln 51-45 in the Class 8A state championship game.
There was as much relief as there was revelry.
Sickles coach Renaldo Garcia, a former standout at Tampa Catholic and the University of Florida, shied away from the spotlight. He let his players have the celebratory stage. They each clutched the trophy as if it were their new favorite toy.
The celebration did not end on the court. When the players and coaches returned to school Monday, they all received plenty of adulation.
Garcia found out just how much that title meant by the volume of text messages he received.
“I finally looked at my phone after the game and I had 90 text messages,” he said. “I started erasing them, and 20 more would pop up. When public schools have waited this long in this county, everyone wants to acknowledge it.”
Even professional teams. The Tampa Bay Lightning flashed a congratulatory message on the Jumbotron during Monday’s home game. The New York Yankees will honor the team during a spring training game March 28.
The school also will pay tribute to its basketball program during a pep rally in the gymnasium today.
“It’s something everyone is going to remember for quite a long time,” Garcia said.