SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — The crowds may be smaller, but the school spirit lingers as students and parents are expected to gather at Shawnee High School this morning to send the Shawnee boys’ basketball off to Dayton for the OHSAA Division II state basketball tournament.
It’s a scene that wouldn’t have been possible this time last year after the team’s season was cut short: students dressed red and black; cheerleaders and players walking the halls of Elmwood, Maplewood and Shawnee Middle School; signs around town congratulating the team for their win against Akron Buchtel.
“It is hard for them because there aren’t many of us,” said Lauren Sweeny, a Shawnee senior who organized the high school’s spirit weeks, “but there’s enough of us to show our support for them. And those that can’t be there are supporting at home too.”
Sweeny spent the past year trying to get as many students packed into the student section as possible, often collaborating with players’ parents as she coordinated game-day themes or planned surprises for the players.
For the past two weeks, Sweeny has dedicated her time to encouraging her peers to show their school pride by wearing their favorite college gear, dressing in white or dressing in school colors, so the team will see how much support they have before today’s game, which will have limited attendance.
“The season showed how strong they really are,” Sweeny said. “And how much of an impact they have on each other. They had a different year and were able to come together and play like they never left each other.”
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the season for players and fans alike were the partially empty stands, a necessity amid a pandemic that found many fans hosting watch parties or tuning in from home instead.
So, the players noticed when more fans started attending games, as the Ohio Department of Health revised its guidelines and allowed schools to fill up to 25% of their gymnasiums. Those games, Owen said, became a highlight of the season for players who missed seeing fans in the student section.
“The kids noticed the bigger crowds,” Owen said. “They’re excited that they’re there, but at the end of the day they’re just happy that they’re still playing basketball and what happened last year didn’t happen again.”