Sense of pride pervades SC community

By Tim Chambers
STAR STAFF
tchambers@starhq.com

   Superiority, gratification and self-respect could describe how the entire Stoney Creek community feels about the Unaka boys winning the state championship.
   But for Unaka High School and the people that many refer to as the "Creekers," it was a sense of pride.
   You might not find Stoney Creek on a travel atlas, but for 6,500 people who sat in the Murfreesboro Murphy Center last Saturday afternoon, Stoney Creek was the talk of the town.
   Never had anyone seen such a display of basketball from a group of young men like those that wore maroon and white. How could 2,000 fans in a sea of maroon fill the bottom section in the north end of the arena?
   It was obvious during the 25-2 second-quarter run by Unaka (25-13) which team the crowd favorite was. Ranger mania had spread throughout the gymnasium. Never had the team won a state championship. Were they even supposed to be here?
   The fans were confident at halftime. Unaka had a 33-18 lead. The only suspense that remained was wondering if Drew Chambers would be able to get down on the floor and shoot some hoops during intermission.
   He had done it for four years in every gym across the state, including the Arby's Classic, plus a Thanksgiving tournament held at the Bahamas. Drew's streak came to a halt that afternoon, but the winning steak of the Rangers would continue.
   Ten in a row, a district and regional title, the unforgettable last-second shot to win the sub-state and now only 16 minutes from something that would affect a community for the rest of its people's lives. Grace was amazing throughout the third period, but Unaka's play was sufficient the entire game, resulting in a 63-47 triumph.
   As the players left the floor before a standing ovation at the 19-second mark, tears streamed down the faces of every coach, player, parents and many Ranger fans. The celebration was about to begin.
   The awards ceremony was supposed to be a short one, according to the TSSAA officials, but the celebration was so breath-taking that they allowed it to go on for nearly 30 minutes. This is what high school basketball is supposed to be about.
   The reporters on press row stated they had never seen anything like this in years. They stood and applauded the team that no one give a chance to win the tournament.
   In a Murfreesboro paper, that gave a preview before the tournament began, Unaka was not mentioned, nor was any player. Yes, several players stood out during the three games at the Murphy Center, but the best word to describe the Rangers was simply "team."
   The accomplishments at Unaka High School are many. Who could ever forget the 2003 baseball team making their first trip ever to the state tournament in Memphis.
   Rusty Chambers, Cody Collins, Tyler McCann and Tee Blevins traded their sneakers for spikes, helping lead the Rangers and coach Mike "Acie" Ensor to big show. Who could ever forget Unaka playing at AutoZone Park the AAA home of the Memphis Redbirds.
   Or the 2003-2004 girls basketball team that made its first-ever trip to the Class A state basketball tournament. Team members were Jessica Osborne, Renee Ensor, Julie Roberson, Coty Townsend, Danielle Ensor, Lacey Gouge, Megan Johnson, Tiffany Babb, Kelly Allen, Sallee Taylor, Logan Wagonseller, Erica Wilson and Tessa Lunsford. They were coached by Kenneth Chambers.
   Nor the 2003 football team, which had its first winning season since 1991, finishing third in the district, before losing in round 1 of the state playoffs.
   The softball program of coach Ronnie Hicks is highly respected throughout the state. A trip to the state tournament could be in the cards for the Lady Rangers.
   So close, so many times but yet so far. But not this time. The state championship that had eluded the Rangers for so many years was now officially theirs.
   Hampton won it all in 1960, and Happy Valley claimed the prize in 1950 and 1974. Unaka now owns the bragging rights for many years to come.
   "It gives me great pride to know these kids and what they accomplished for the school and community," stated former player Kent Williams, who is now the owner and operator of Dino's Restaurant. "For years we have heard about Hampton and Happy Valley' state titles, and rightfully so. But now we have bragging rights as well.
   Longtime Rangers fan Sherrill Bowers added: "I been a big fan of Ranger basketball for years. I don't think anything will ever top this. The first one is special."
   Richard Hardin couldn't help but think about his longtime friend Dallas Lowe, who passed away just recently. Lowe a former athlete at Unaka was a fixture at all the games.
   "I'm sure he was smiling down from Heaven," said Hardin. "Big Dal would have been proud."
   Many mentioned Kyle Nidiffer, who had such an impact on the youth of Stoney Creek. Nidiffer had coached so many of these kids, including head coach Donald Ensor, but passed away only a few weeks ago.
   "Kyle would have been on cloud nine," said Ensor, Unaka's head coach. "He used to haul me all the time, up and down the creek."
   The storybook season is over, but the memories will last forever. I'll never forget the public address announcer bellowing, "The 2004 class A state champions are the Unaka Rangers from Stoney Creek, Tennessee."
   There was nothing but smiles when the team accepted the gold ball, a trophy that represents winning the state championship, but more importantly, one that brings everlasting pride to the Stoney Creek community.