Rangers, fans relive title

By Tim Chambers
STAR STAFF
tchambers@starhq.com

   It's April 1, 2004 and you've been away from Carter County for a few months. A friend calls and asks if you would like to be their guest for a night out at Unaka High School and watch a rerun of the Rangers winning the Class A boys basketball state championship.
   All of a sudden you realize what day it is, and respond smiling, "You can't pull that on me, it's April Fools Day."
   Yes, Thursday was April 1, 2004, but it's no joke that the Rangers won the state championship. Thursday night at Snavely Gymnasium, some 400 fans turned out to watch a repay of Unaka's title game versus Grace Academy for the gold ball.
   Players and coaches were seated on the baseline at the entrance of the gym. Each one took the time to autograph group and individual pictures, T-shirts and hats for young and old.
   All types of memorabilia were being sold, with the proceeds going toward the purchase of gold championship rings for each player, manager and coach.
   Logan Archer, a 7-year-old second grade student at Unaka Elementary School, and future Ranger, was well-pleased with his team picture and T-shirt.
   "I got Rusty's (Chambers) autograph on my T-shirt," Archer said. "And Tyler (McCann) and Cody (Collins) signed my book.
   The smile on his face indicated that this was a fun night indeed.
   Young and old exchanged hugs and handshakes. The rapport that these young men have brought to the Stoney Creek community has been overwhelming.
   "I proud of what these young men have accomplished," stated school board member Daniel Holder. "I'm more proud of their character and their high standards."
   "They are not only ambassadors of Unaka High school, but for the entire county. The overall grade-point average of the boys and girls basketball teams along with cheerleaders is 3.3."
   Holder gave the same statement at Tuesday's school board meeting where the teams and cheerleaders were recognized for their accomplishments.
   The festivities kicked off with a steak dinner provided by the lunchroom staff of Unaka High School. Sandra Taylor, Hope Rambo, Edith Canter and Lucy Shankles went the extra mile to make sure each parent and player had enough to eat.
   Herbie Adams and Lemmie Taylor did their imitation of Emeril Lagasse grilling mouth watering steaks that were cooked to perfection.
   Carter County Bank provided drinks and deserts. After the meal, each player received a 17x30 team picture, complements of the bank staff.
   After the signing of autographs, fans took their seats to watch a replay of the championship game.
   Before the replay, UHS principal John Fine addressed the crowd and stated the admiration he had for this group of coaches and boys. He spoke of their character and how they were examples of what student athletes should be. He praised the work of head coach Donald Ensor, and his assistant coaches, Richard Thomas, Johnny Ensor and Larry Bowling.
   "They have instilled pride at Unaka High School," Fine said. "This group of players and coaches will never be forgotten."
   Link "Squeak" Nidiffer led the crowd in the singing of the alma mater. Megan Johnson followed with the national anthem. With lights out, the game was shown crystal clear on a large screen in its entirety.
   Although fans knew the outcome of the game, they cheered with each Ranger basket. High fives were given by the players with each great pass.
   This was a ton of fun for all who had braved the cold temperatures to pay tribute to boys from Stoney Creek. Many smiles were among the crowd but a few tears flowed from the eyes of parents and fans that witnessed this unforgettable April Fools Day.
   As the game ended the entire crowd gave an arousing standing ovations to the team and its coaches. For senior players Josh Jones, Cody Collins and Rusty Chambers, it would be their last hoorah.
   But the memories these three seniors take with them will be everlasting.
   Maggie Greene, assistant principal at UHS, was instrumental in organizing this event.
   Fine is more to each player than their principal -- he's a true friend. The players and coaches respect his character and leadership. But other facility members have supported this team and worked hard at making this night happen.
   Roger Arwood, Ellen Bowers, Steve Pierson, Jane Smith, Melissa Loveless, Marsha Greenwell, Lisa Hall, Stephen Long, Diana Barnett, James Lyons, Tammy Martin, Etta Mays, Jason Ward, Raymond Morton, Roy Salyer, Ramona Trent, Dewey Whaley, Julie Yankee, along with Big John and Karen Taylor, were among the staff that made it all happen.
   Coaches Mike "Acie" Ensor and Ronnie Hicks have worked around their baseball and softball schedules to show support for the team.
   As the caravan of Rangers arrived home on Sunday afternoon March 21, Randal Lewis approached me with the ideal of showing the game back to the fans that were unable to attend. Lewis contacted Miss Greene who took the ideal and made it reality.
   Ruby Ensor, Donald and Johnny's mother, said it best: "You see the gold ball sitting over there but you can't believe what has happened."
   Believe it Ranger fans, April Fools Day has now passed, and the gold ball is still there.