By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It was, undoubtedly, more bitter than sweet.
The home team didn’t win the last senior boys basketball game to be played in the gymnasium at Queen Elizabeth Collegiate. A member of the home team didn’t score the final basket in the nameless gym that has been home to QE basketball for 60 years. That distinction went to Hunter Dickson, a member of the Napanee Golden Hawks, whose short jump shot from the middle of the key went through the hoop with about 30 seconds to play, capping a 56-46 victory Wednesday afternoon.
The Raiders of QE may no longer be Red, as they were for many years, when it was socially acceptable to use stereotypical images of Native warriors to strike fear in your athletic opponents. They may no longer be so strong as to intimidate other teams on the basis of their ability alone, as for many years QE teams were, regardless of nickname.
That doesn’t make the current members of the senior basketball team at QE any less genuine. Not all the eyes were dry after the game. A group that has lost more often than it has won this year still wanted this one to be special.
One of them, Tyler Bark, said he was upset not just for losing a game to a team they believed they could beat.
“All the time, we kept saying it was the last game, so we had more than just the win to play for,” he said. “We had everybody else, the whole QECVI community: past graduates, people at the school now, teachers, coaches—everybody in the community.”
“We won’t have another one in this building, ever,” he continued, softly. “It was exciting because it was our last one here. It was sweet, but bitter at the same time.”
An hour before the game, a couple of dozen fans had already made their way to the upper gallery, but the crowd never really grew much beyond that. A row of chairs had been set out, lining the court to one side. Where once two or three rows wouldn’t have been enough to seat everyone who wanted to watch a QE basketball game, this was plenty for the handful of former players, coaches and parents whose children once drew cheers there who wanted to relive those moments one last time.
There was a modest ceremony at halftime, where former coaches were presented with commemorative t-shirts. Clearly moved that they took the trouble to be there, a member of the current team, Hank Perrin, approached the men to shake their hands.
It wasn’t exactly the last game at Yankee Stadium, but, then, such trappings would not have been fitting for a place where kids from working class families in an unpretentious neighbourhood went to dances and played their basketball.
“We were trying to let it become what it was going to become, organically,” said Joanna Belfer, coach of the team and for the last 11 years a teacher at QE. “Because we have other teams, and I didn’t want other teams to feel like their last home game at QE was any less important … I was trying to downplay it a little bit, but also make it a little bit memorable.
“QE basketball has a history, not so much in recent times, but there is a rich history. There was a time when QE was quite a dynasty in basketball, so I thought it was appropriate to recognize the end of something that was very special.”
High schools are supposed to be places where dreams of the future are fostered. When a school is facing closure, though, as QE is at the end of this academic year, a lot of conversations take place in the past tense. Belfer said she and the players talked about the finality of Wednesday’s game beforehand. It was, she said, a big deal.
“They did appreciate what was happening, they did appreciate that they were playing the last home game,” she said. “QE kids sometimes get a bad rap but there are so many amazing kids at the school and they’ve done so many amazing things for the school. I get a little emotional about it myself.
“A lot of them will be part of the last graduating class at QE, so there’s certainly an awareness there and there’s a deep rooted sadness with everything that occurs for the last time at QE. I think they’ve accepted it and they’re ready for the change, but there’s going to be sadness for sure.”
Sport may be the catalyst for school spirit—the legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant once remarked that it’s hard to rally around a math class—but what is being felt in the school goes beyond marking the end of athletic traditions.
“A lot of the students are very sad they won’t have their school to come back and visit,” Belfer said. “They see the alumni coming back and supporting them and visiting their teachers and walking the halls and laughing about how, ‘This used to be my locker,’ and they’re quite aware that they’re not going to have that opportunity.
“It’s not just that they’re closing the school, they’re demolishing the building, and there’s definitely some sadness there. They’re handling it very well, but certainly whenever something happens for the last time, it hits them a little harder, and a little harder and a little harder.”
Though it wasn’t ultimately reflected in the game attendance, Bark said there had been a buzz in the school ahead of the game. “A lot of people were excited about it.” The feeling among the players wasn’t tense, as falling behind 16-7 in the first quarter might suggest. “Everybody was more hyped up about it,” he said, which doubtless played a role in a second quarter comeback that left the Raiders trailing by just two points, 26-24, at halftime, after having taken a two-point lead just before the break.
There would be no storybook ending, however. Napanee started to pull away late the third quarter and the Raiders on this day didn’t shoot well enough from outside to overcome their inability to get second chances under the basket in the face of a distinct size disadvantage.
Liam Maracle, who scored seven straight points at the end of the third quarter, finished as Napanee’s top scorer with 17 points. Matt Campbell added 12 and Dickson ended the game with nine.
QE’s Evrold Watts reached the 20-point plateau for the second game in a row, scoring 22 points, 12 of them in an electrified second quarter, when he hit two of his four three-point baskets. Braden Cordeiro added 13 points to the Raiders’ attack, including three baskets from beyond the three-point arc.
The only senior game of the day in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association left Napanee and QE tied for sixth place at 3-4, with the Hawks now holding the advantage in any future tie-breaker that may be required.