SUSSEX -- The Sussex-Hamilton boy's basketball team has almost come out of nowhere to earn two of the most impressive post-season wins in school history! In a real sense, the Chargers' dream season has been touched by something that goes far beyond the sport.
It was an improbable comeback. Against all odds, the Sussex-Hamilton Chargers raced back from an eight point deficit in the final 83 seconds at Hartland Arrowhead on Saturday, to shock the Warhawks 65-63 and advance to the Sweet 16 of the Division One State Championship. This came on the heels of Friday night's upset of Homestead.
"I live for it. My whole life - to get as far as we have, it's a dream come true," Chargers' senior point guard Brandon Hagenow said.
Sussex-Hamilton has a sixth man, in spirit. John Cassidy and Chargers' head coach Andy Cerroni coached youth league basketball players, including their own sons, for years. The two became closer than brothers. Cassidy worked with Cerroni's elementary school students. Cassidy put up a valiant fight, before succumbing to ALS in January of 2011.
"Losing him was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through, and it was tough. He was looking down on us and smiling because he loved the game of basketball, and he was an avid Chargers fan," Cerroni said.
Before he passed away, Coach Cassidy gave his close friend a special gift that bonds the two together forever. If you ask Cerroni, he'll say it has something to do with the Chargers amazing tournament success.
"He always believed, until the end, that he was going to beat that thing, and he had this dream stone that he carried around in his pocket, and when he got to the point where his hands were not functionable, he gave it to me and said 'I want you to carry it along with me,' and it's something I carried every game," Cerroni said.
In his heart, Coach Cerroni knows that his close friend is proud of his players and staff, as much for their character, as for the positive, competitive spirit that embodied his life. Assistant Coach Tracey Thomas and his wife are moving out west next season, and he says seeing the young men he's worked with come so far has been special.
"It's amazing. When I started coaching, these guys were like fourth, fifth grade. To see them come through all the camps and then knowing this is a good group of kids, and then for them to have all the success they're having. Especially being my last year here - it's a great way to go out," Thomas said.
The next step for Sussex-Hamilton is Thursday, March 8th, when they have to go up against unbeaten and number one ranked Germantown.
"We know they're a great foe. It's going to take a lot for us to overcome them, but we know that if we stick to our game plan and if we do our best, there's a reason you play the game and that's why we're going to go out there and play our best on Thursday," Chargers' senior guard Nick Patterson said.
Win or lose, Coach Cassidy - the Chargers' sixth man in spirit, will be with the team, and he'll continue to be proud.
Cassidy's wife Lynn and his son and two daughters are just as proud of Coach Cerroni and his Sussex-Hamilton Chargers.