By AMANDA BEAM
BORDEN — Throughout ancient history, tales abound about perilous travels home for those who fought the Trojan army. On Saturday, the boys of Borden didn't need a hollowed wooden horse to conquer the Triton Trojans, winning for the first time in school history the Class A boys' basketball state championship. And although they didn't encounter any trouble on their return home, the journey was still something of an epic for this small town Hoosier team.
Only four hours after their Saturday victory, adoring fans lined the streets of the rural town to welcome home the new champs. Letters on local billboards had already been updated and horns honked at passing cars to alert the world, or at least their section of it, to the celebration. Along with their recently acquired trophy, the team arrived as they had left the previous morning, on a yellow school bus. But this time around, a plethora of sirens and fireworks led the way back to the hometown they love.
In Borden, this is the stuff of which legends are made.
Crowds surrounded the bus as the boys entered the high school for a pep rally honoring their historic win. More than a thousand fans gathered in the gym to show their support, an impressive number considering only 800 people live in the town.
BHS Athletic Director Toby Cheatham is one of these lifelong residents. Once the players were introduced, he addressed the standing-room-only crowd. Leading up to the championship, the town had been compared to Milan, the storied team portrayed in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers.” From the beginning, Cheatham said he spoke to the boys about writing their own narrative.
“I always tell the boys, 'Hey look. Keep writing the story. We have one more chapter to go,'” he said to fans.
Former Braves have been waiting for quite a while to see how this particular chapter would end. Borden grad Janice Carter said the school has always been an essential part of the community. Connections run deep in the town. If people aren't related by blood to these team members, almost all have known someone throughout the program's past who has played ball on its courts.
“This isn't a win for just these boys on the school bus. This is a win for every athlete that has played for this school,” Carter said. “It's not just about the basketball game. It's about this community being successful and how they work together to be that way.”
Likewise, old mementos of yesteryear were dusted off to cheer on the 2013 team. BHS 1975 grad Kathy Wilson said her mother Judy Lewis listened to the game on the radio last week. In 1950, Lewis rooted on the boys as a cheerleader for the then Borden Berries. Health issues kept her sidelined from cheering them on in person this time around, but she still remained a dedicated fan from her home.
“The former post office clerk couldn't go, but she got out her cheer skirt and her Borden Berries sweater last Saturday, and sat and held it with her caregiver,” Wilson said. “My son Chad, who now lives in Evansville, said it was the most exciting thing since John Borden walked up the valley.”
Assistant coach Kaden Nolot was a member of the 2008 team that first traveled to semistate. Nolot's dad Joe also played for the Braves back in the 80s. This day Joe could be seen expressing his Borden pride by grilling free hot dogs for the community. Kaden, on the other hand, smiled as fans gave him hugs and thanks for his contributions to this state title.
“It's amazing, not just for our team and the community, but for the former players and the former coaches. It's everybody. We finally did it for everybody,” Kaden said. “We've been waiting a long time and it's finally here.”
For more than 60 years, Ed Kirchgessner waited patiently for a Borden state championship as well. Many of his ten children and grandkids have played ball for the school. When the opportunity for the title game came, pancreatic cancer didn't stop the 1950 Borden graduate from making the trip up to Indy to cheer his grandson Billy Kirchgessner and the rest of the Braves team. He knows the guys well.
Last summer, the entire team worked at the family's cantaloupe farm, hard work Ed said he hoped had helped to prepare them for the big win. Sitting by the scorers' table during most home games, Ed would periodically get asked by Coach Nash to sub at a game. Nash said somehow he never remembered his jersey.
“Doc drew up a plan for me to get in the corner and shoot one night. He was joking with me,” Ed said. “I'm so proud of those boys and Doc too. It couldn't be any sweeter.”
At the pep rally, the team dedicated this season and their state championship to Ed. Diagnosed in the fall, the doctors only gave him four months to live. Seven months later he continues to prove them wrong by exceeding their predictions. Nash said he thinks the team gave Ed something to which to look forward.
“God works miracles every day and Ed's sure one of those miracles. He told me out there that he was going to live another year to see more kids play. I told him, 'Ed you're going to live a lot longer than that,'” the coach said. “And I think he will. He's a fighter just like his grandkids.”
As Ed and the other fans filtered out into the parking lot at the finish of the evening, a mob of children remained in the gym to shoot around on the baskets. Even though this year's season is finished, future generations yearn for more trips to the state championship. So does Nash, even though he once may have thought differently.
“(In 2008) we were talking about winning the state championship and what it would be like... I said, ‘When we win a state championship I'm probably going to quit.’ (That's) definitely not happening,” Nash said. “I love these guys and getting to the state championship game and winning the state championship has made me nothing more than hungry to get back there again.”
For this go around, the tale of Braves basketball finally had its happy ending. While next year's story remains unwritten, the 2012-2013 season will go down as one for the history books, a legacy that supporters of the school have already taken to heart.
“On the way home there on the bus, a car passed us. I don't know who you are but in the back of the window, it had, ‘Finish the story.’ Oh my goodness. I'm telling you what, that got to me,” Cheatham said to the fans at the pep rally. “With that said, we've got two words: The end.”