Small town, big hearts and results
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The glow on the faces of Shealyn Shafer, Mykenzie Martin and Makayla Willis were as bright as neon.
It was sort of like the outline of a grizzly bear on Nicholas County's football scoreboard - a beacon for years to those traveling U.S. 19 through Summersville.
The third-seeded Nicholas County Grizzlies moved to the Class AA girls state tournament semifinals via a 47-42 victory over North Marion Thursday morning.
And here's the deal: That means something to Shafer, Martin and Willis. It means something to coach Tom McGirl. It means something to those in Summersville, which has a population of 3,572.
"They've called off school [today]," said Shafer, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds on Thursday. "That way the teachers and school can come and see us play."
Sometimes the meaning of these state tournaments gets lost. West Virginia isn't exactly a breeding ground for major university sports programs. Too few people live here, and those that do are spread out.
But a state tournament victory like that of Nicholas County - a first in school history - is noteworthy. It's a blip to most. It's a blimp to those in Summersville.
"Living in a small community, things like this are big," Shafer said. "It shows how together we are. Summersville is a great place to live. And our team is not just our team, but our town, our fans."
Tiny Martin, listed at 5-foot, smiled.
"Our student body is really supportive of us," she chimed in.
Many considered the win by Nicholas somewhat of an upset, even though the Grizzlies were seeded third and the Huskies sixth.
Whatever the case, Nicholas has won at the girls state tournament. They've gone from Summersville's Broad Street to the state's version of Broadway.
"The last time we were in the state tournament, Shealyn was in the first grade, Mykenzie hadn't started yet and Makayla was in preschool," said McGirl. "It's a big deal for our community. I'm just like the head cheerleader, really. Sometimes I'm jumping around and the officials think I'm jumping at them. I'm not, I promise."
"Well, maybe sometimes."
It was a heartwarming sight. We get so used to the same teams winning year in and year out that it's refreshing to see a team like Nicholas County jump out of the water (Summersville Lake?) and take a bite.
Nicholas County, by the way, has a population of 23,233. It has a relatively new, nice arena and convention center that seats 2,000 for a basketball game. And, yes, it's been known to lay the state's worst speed trap.
On Thursday, though, the school's girls hoops team proved to be one of the Class AA's final four. It was time to celebrate.
Next? Well, Bridgeport, which will be heavily favored. But don't tell 5-11 Shafer, a senior.
"With our hearts," she said, "we have a chance. Before each game in the huddle we say the difference between possible and impossible is determination. We're determined."
It's something the hometown of 3,572 will be watching. It's something the town will be cheering.
"We had a pep rally after our regionals," Shafer said. "But we've also had small things, like Facebook posts, text messages, things like that coming in. Little things like that are what keep us going."
Like that neon grizzly bear to U.S. 19 motorists.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.