BROOKFIELD -- The girls on the Heritage Christian varsity basketball team will never forget winning a state championship, but years from now, their journey to that crowning moment may have even more meaning.
The Heritage Christian girl's varsity basketball team has a great deal to be thankful for. Saturday, March 24th, the Lady Patriots beat Owen-Withee 79-51 to capture the state championship in Division 5. "It really feels awesome, and I am really blessed and honored to be in this position," Patriots junior Moriah Begin said. "As time went on, we had our ups and downs, and then as time went on, we played strong and got it together, and came away with a victory," Patriots sophomore Ramiyah Bennett said. "I have seen them grow up and mature and grow in the Lord and their faith and just enjoy and love. They're a great group to be around," Heritage Christian Principal Debbie Alexy said.
The Lady Patriots' story is all the more amazing when you consider that just two short years ago, the school almost closed down due to financial problems. They lost 80 percent of their student body, and now, to see Heritage Christian win a state championship for the first time in school history is nothing short of a miracle. "Difficulty is sometimes put in our lives to help us and make us stronger and make us better," Heritage Christian Coach Terry Bennett said.
Bennett, a former standout player at Milwaukee Madison in the mid-1980s has gained great satisfaction from seeing his young women grow, on and off the court. Take number 33 - sophomore Tiersa Gillie for instance. She transferred into Heritage Christian. "I think God every day for Tiersa. Tiersa has done a great job. She wasn't doing that well academically, or socially but she came right into Heritage and buckled down, and just had a new sense of purpose to her life," Bennett said.
Number 23 - junior Jameera Sandifer used to get kicked out of grade school. Now, bolstered by her faith and her friends, Jameera has blossomed into a model citizen and student. "She struggled a little bit, but she got used to things and seeing that the teachers really care about her sincerely, that there was a God that loved her, and when she started to see that, it changed her outlook on things, and she started to dig deep down and get serious about her academics," Bennett said.
At times, the road to glory has been rocky. Never more-so than early in their tournament run, when the team found out that Rod Barnett, their beloved and respected assistant coach, had suffered a recurrence of cancer. "I thought at first, the girls needed me, but it turned out, I needed the girls," Barnett said. "We knew that we had to be strong for him, and we pulled it together and we showed our strength for him," Bennett said. "Adversity definitely brings you closer or pulls you apart, and for us, it pulled us together," Begin said. "They had an extra sense of purpose to try to bring home the title," Bennett said. "There were a couple games when I heard in the huddle, 'let's win this one for Coach Rod,' so it's been very, very good. The positive-ness has been awesome," Barnett said.
Through it all, the Lady Patriots have persevered, prevailed and gained a perspective on life that belies their tender years.
Heritage Christian opponents beware - there were no seniors on this year's championship team.