During the 2002-03 high school basketball season, the Greenbrier Wolfpack and the Lakeside Lady Panthers were a cut above.
Both squads swept their county opponents, and they each claimed championships in the Columbia County Christmas Tournament. The Wolfpack and the Lady Panthers also established new team records for wins in a season.
The glory ended in last week's Region 3-AAAA tournament at Cross Creek High School, where Greenbrier and Lakeside dropped games and fell one step short of securing spots in the state playoffs.
But the biggest disappointment wasn't what happened on the court.
It was in the stands.
Last Wednesday, the Lakeside girls made a valiant effort, but the same couldn't be said for the fans who decided to skip the action. Basically, only Lakeside's cheerleaders and the player's parents were there to root for the Lady Panthers.
Lakeside was locked in a tight fourth-quarter battle with Baldwin, and had there been more support for the Lady Panthers, the outcome might have been different.
When Greenbrier took the court Thursday, things were different. A large group of students turned out to cheer the Pack to victory over Thomson.
In the fourth quarter, though, Thomson was en route to a rout, and with only 3:11 left to play, some Greenbrier fans got rowdy with a ref. When an official ejected the hecklers, the rest of the students also left the building.
"I was disappointed in that," Pack coach Garrett Black said. "That didn't show much character. A few of them got out of hand."
Granted, I got out of hand a few times in high school and was booted from some games, but that was as a player, not a fan.
Getting a red card for unnecessary roughness in a soccer match is not uncommon. When the Greenbrier students marched out of the Cross Creek gym, they left the other Pack supporters with red faces.
"You make sure to put that in the paper," one Thomson fan said. "That was uncalled for."
When the Greenbrier faithful lost their composure, they lost an opportunity.
Two minutes after the mass melee, Pack senior Eric Marshall fouled out of the contest. The best basketball player in Greenbrier history capped his career and collapsed at mid-court.
"He fought hard to the end," Black said. "His leadership showed in the huddle, telling the guys not to quit."
But the Greenbrier students did quit. They should have been there at the end to be a part of Marshall's standing ovation, and they should have stuck around for the other Pack players that made it such a special season.
"We're proud of our seniors," Black said. "We had all seniors out there in the fourth quarter, and they hustled their tails off."
Meanwhile, the angry students were hustling their tails back home.
"We gave it our all," Marshall said. "It was the worst time to have a bad night. Columbia County schools have never been in this position. We got here and didn't know what to expect."
The Wolfpack and the Lady Panthers surpassed expectations, but they deserved better.
Shame on the fans who stayed away Wednesday, and thumbs down to the ones who left early Thursday - they missed something special.
Hats off to the winners.
"This loss is only going to make us stronger as people," Marshall said.
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