On March 21, the Exeter High School Lady Tigers bested the Marion County Lady Mustangs, 56-31, and brought a second state championship title back to Barry County. Although I was unable to travel to Columbia to watch these talented young ladies make history, I listened to every second of the game on KKBL and cheered with other Exeter fans each time our girls scored. As the clock ran down during the fourth quarter, I shed a few tears of joy and pride for my alma mater.
Over the last four years, I have had the privilege to photograph Exeter students, including the Lady Tigers basketball team, on several occasions. It is truly amazing how kind and mature these young ladies have acted each time I have visited the school district. It came as no surprise to me that in addition to being awarded the state title, Exeter brought home the sportsmanship award this year.
"Honestly, this is not just a great basketball team. This is a great group of kids," Coach Jason Cole said after Saturday's victory. "I can't say enough about our group of kids."
I agree with Coach Cole's comments and I believe that statement says a lot, not only about the Lady Tigers, but about the Exeter R-VI School District as a whole. I believe that the smallest school district in Barry County has become very successful in molding graduates who will become successful adults and community leaders.
Although he would deny it, I believe Coach Cole has done more than build a quality girls athletic program at Exeter. In addition to teaching his players how to excel on the court, I believe he, and other members of the school's faculty and administration, have taught these students to be good role models and exceptional young adults.
On Saturday evening, I waited in the Exeter High School parking lot with dozens of other Lady Tiger fans. As the faint sound of sirens began to echo in the distance and people flooded out of their cars to watch the line of emergency vehicles escort the Exeter School bus back to the R-VI campus, I could feel the excitement building in the crowd that gathered around the parking area.
When the Lady Tigers exited the bus you could see exhaustion in their eyes, but they didn't complain or grumble as friends and fans asked for just one more photo. They made sure to hug each person who crossed their path and thank each fan who congratulated them.
As I stood back and watched the crowd that gathered around the new state champs, I heard the same phrase over and over, "I'm so proud of our girls."
I wonder how the 2008-09 Lady Tigers basketball team feels about the fact that each and every Exeter fan has taken ownership of them and their victory. I would doubt if they mind at all. In truth, they would probably say that it was the support of these fans that helped propel them to the state title.
It is a great honor for me to be able to use my first editorial to congratulate the Exeter Lady Tiger basketball team on achieving the school's second state title. It's an exciting time for the R-VI School District, and an exciting time to be a Tiger!