Two Danville Police Department sport utility vehicles escorted a black stretch limousine into the parking lot of George Washington High School’s gymnasium last Saturday.
The police escort may have led some to believe that a politician, maybe a Senator or Congresswoman, was in town and headed over to a campaign rally at GW’s gym.
That wasn’t the case, though. Instead of a politician, Danville PD were leading a group of guys more special and useful than a politician.
The officers were leading the 2019 Class 4 state champion George Washington boys’ basketball team into the gym for the Eagles’ state-ring ceremony.
Last Saturday afternoon, roughly 300 friends, family and alumni braved the heat and dressed to the nines and came out to celebrate the school’s first boys’ basketball state title in nearly 20 years.
“I would just really like to thank the whole Danville community because like you said, it’s hot outside, and it shows everybody can come together as one and celebrate this feat without any drama,” said senior forward Meco Wiggins.
For senior Nisere Waddell, the ceremony felt like the Eagles had won the championship all over again.
“Right now, I feel the same as I did the night we won the championship,” Waddell said. “I feel surprised, shocked, grateful. It’s still an awesome moment and this ceremony today spoke to the love this community has for GW basketball.”
Junior Juwan Spratt was overwhelmed by the moment, but was also quick to remind fans the Eagles were already working hard to do it again.
“I just want to say thank you to the Danville community for coming out and supporting us in not only the state tournament, but during the regular season as well,” Spratt said.
Spratt, a returning defensive back and center on the school’s football and basketball teams, expressed his desire to bring the same feeling back to Danville next fall and winter.
“I just want to let them know that we’re already at work to do this again next year in not only basketball, but football as well.”
Each member of the team gathered around coach Jermaine Parker and his coaching staff in the lobby of GW’s gym.
Those used to seeing them strictly in their street clothes or basketball uniforms had a little surprise on their hands.
Parker and his staff, along with GW Athletic Director Jonathan Fain and members of the Danville community, all pitched in and bought matching tuxedos for each player to wear to the ceremony.
“It was really amazing because it was my first time riding in a limousine and with the matching suits, it really made us feel like rock stars,” Wiggins said. “It was a really surreal moment for all of us and one that I’m sure we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives.”
Parker repeated the team’s motto of trust the process and mentioned a repeat run next season.
Assistant coach Kevin Bowman shouted “hard work,” to which his team replied, “dedication,” in unison several times.
Assistant coach Charles Miganelli recalled a story of the usually reserved Nyrek Wheeler losing his temper a bit in the final minutes of the state-title game against Louisa.
These were all mantras and team memories passed around minutes before the Eagles received their rings.
Parker knew he had something special on his hands entering the season. Nobody could blame Parker for his belief considering four-fifths of GW’s starting lineup this season were members of the 2016-17 Eagles’ JV squad that ran the table like a linebacker at Thanksgiving dinner, finishing the season at a perfect 22-0.
In total, nine players on this year’s varsity squad were members of that perfect JV squad two years ago that Parker manned.
Even with all the experience returning, Parker knew he would still need a mantra to keep his guys focused during the rough times.
Drawing on his faith and time spent as a minister, Parker developed the motto “Trust the Process” and off the team went.
In the end, it led GW to an overall record of 27-2 and the Class 4 state title.
“Not only that motto, but Parker and his coaching staff as a whole had a great influence on us this season,” Waddell said. “They pushed us everyday in practice and I think that’s what a lot of people really don’t know about because they didn’t really see it.”
“They pushed and encouraged us to not only be great basketball players, but young men as well and we responded and got the results. Coach [Parker] and coach [Bowman] always told us before each game that we were about ready to let the dogs loose and that’s what we did.”
After the coaches offered their memories and words, it was time to get down to business and hand out some awards and rings.
First, Fain took the mic and announced every single jersey number from this year’s team would be retired.
Next, Fain, Parker, Bowman and Miganelli gave each player their jersey enclosed in a glass case along with an autographed team ball.
Then came the moment every player was waiting for. Each of them brought broad smiles and offered handshakes to Fain and Parker and his coaching staff along with Danville Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Stanley Jones. They then made their way to the center where they were presented with their championship rings.
The ceremony was capped off by Wheeler and senior Shunta Wilson raising the 2019 state title banner to its rightful place in the rafters of GW’s gym.
“When I think back on this day, I’m going to think about my teammates, my friends, my family, my coaches, everybody that was involved in this moment,” Wiggins said. “It’s really a surreal moment.”
“I came really close to crying just walking in here today.”
For Waddell, the moment took him back to the fateful March night inn Richmond.
“I’ve got exactly the same emotions now as I did back then,” Waddell said. “It’s been a really surreal, emotional and unbelievable moment.”