Lincoln High Wins State Basketball: 10 Years Later, a Fond Memoir (Part II)

Posted: March 7, 2013 in Sports
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(*Author’s note: this is the second part of an excessively lengthy memoir, recounting the glory days of Lincoln High basketball, as they won the Nebraska Boys Class A State Basketball Championship.  It’s been 10 years since they won and, as you will undoubtedly see in the following post, my fond memories of those moments have not lessened with time.  Here’s a link to part one, if you would like to catch up on where the story stands today.  Also, for those of you who are frequent readers of Burnpoetry, a good deal of this post will sound familiar.  That’s because I already wrote a shorter version of this post in July of 2011.  Here’s the link for that as well.)

I’ve already discussed what led us to this point.  I’ve covered my borderline absurd love for the Lincoln High Links’ basketball program, from my time spent proudly attempting to be the glue-guy for the Freshman “B” squad to my boyhood hero-worship of the near-missing teams of the early 2000’s.  I’ve explained my penchant for hyperbole and the rose-tinted glasses that I have strapped to my face like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1980’s rec-specs.  However, before we go any further I have a confession to make.  Right here and right now.  I need to get this off my chest before I pick up by describing Lincoln High’s second round tourney game against Omaha Westside.

In the darkened, bleak years of 15-year-old stupidity(*Author’s note: otherwise known as 2003) I wrote a rap song about the Lincoln High basketball team.

There, I said it.

I’m not proud of this fact.  Honestly, it’s taken me 10 years to admit as much publicly, and I feel like if I’m going to continually burn on things I need to be as honest as possible.  The 2003 version of me had very-loosely held ambitions to break into the rap game.  So I sat down one fateful day, put pen to paper, and cranked out what might be the worst rap song since Marky Mark dropped his pants in “Good Vibrations.”  I’ll spare most of you the gory details of this Shel Silverstein, paint-by-numbers rap song.  Titled, “Game Time at the High” it involved name-dropping our starting five, bragging about the 22” rims on the cars in the school’s parking lot and any number of other atrocities.  It was, essentially, a war crime.  I was foolishly convinced by some of my classmates that the song wasn’t that bad (*Author’s note: it was.) and submitted it to the school’s poetry magazine at their behest.  I don’t openly support book-burning, but I desperately wish that someone would hunt down the copies of this dark, dark chapter in my life and Farenheit 451 the hell out of them.  Moving on.

After we had beaten Omaha Central the mood could only be described as crunk.  As a mofo.  We sprinted through the parking lot, war-whooping like the racist extras in an Indians V.S. John Wayne movie, baying at the night air.  We were feverish.  Fervent.  We were 16-year-olds with wings on our heels and adrenaline pumping through our veins like we’d just gotten Pulp Fiction needled right to the heart.  We were beside ourselves.  Not knowing what to do to celebrate this enormous victory, we leapt into our one-friend-who-got-a-car-for-his-16th-birthday’s car and peeled out.  Directly into traffic.

Unfazed by the instantaneous gridlock that is Devaney Center parking, we bumped DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” as loud as our speakers and ears could take it.  (*Author’s note: I’m not entirely sure how a song from 1996 came to be my own personal anthem for Lincoln High’s miraculous run, but it absolutely was.  I mean, it’s no “Game Time at The High”, but it was okay.)

In typical high school fashion, once we got out of the parking lot of the Devaney Center, we were desperately in need of some fast food and a place to hang out.  We rolled into Runza, piling gleefully out of the clown-car-packed vehicle and an impromptu dance party took place in the parking lot.  At some point we decided that the best way to consecrate such an amazing sporting event was to have one of our group attempt to bong an entire mini-cone full of Mountain Dew from the restaurant.  They had given out the cones to help our students cheer, apparently, but I feel relatively certain that we weren’t the only ones misusing them.  The Dew-bonger choked and sputtered and generally soaked his Lincoln High shirt in a sticky amalgamation of 47 grams of sugar per serving mixed with all the unholy chemicals that make Mountain Dew so damn Mountain Delicious.

Eventually we had to head home.  Hoarse.  Exhausted.  Way too excited to sleep without first burning off some energy by playing Nintendo 64 for a while to calm my nerves.  Finally beginning to unwind to the sweet, sweet goodness of Goldeneye I was able to take a deep, rattling, breath.  The next day would be a day game.  It would be a parentally sanctioned truancy bonanza.  It would be a showdown between the Westside Warriors and the Lincoln High Links.

Having school the day of a state basketball tournament game is pointless.  It’s like trying to study in a library while Kiss is having a debauched, insane concert two Dewey Decimal places over from you.  My concentration was shot. Our concentration was shot.  Even the teachers seemed ready to “come down with something” and split as quickly as they could.  The dull, throbbing white noise, like the soft humming of industrial air-conditioning that had been building; that had been continuing to increase incrementally from way off in the distance at stage left?  It was getting louder.  It was nearly drowning out math and science and English and the droning of teachers clicking through their 4th power point of the day.  The school was poised at the precipice.  We were looking over the edge, with our parachutes strapped on at 10,000 feet up.  We were.  Ready.  To.  Jump.

For the Westside game I had to play with the drumline at halftime.  It through my whole pre-game routine out of whack and, initially, left me in a foul mood since I wasn’t able to stand in the student section like I normally would have.  However once it was game time, the jackhammering heartbeat, the swaying crowd full of friends and colleagues and casual-acquaintances-turned-high-fiving-best-friends was too much for me.  I was swept away.  After proudly strutting onto the court to perform with our school’s dance team, replete with Nelly-style Band-Aids under our eyes (*Author’s note: big ups, 2013, on leaving that weird trend behind.) and red and black camouflage bandanas, I was able to set my drum aside and focus purely on the action on the court.

And “action” is perhaps underselling how exciting the game actually was.

It was a back and forth battle.  Both teams were scrappy, over-achieving units that had good coaching.  They had a rabid student section that truly gave as good as they got.  Almost.  We shouted.  We chanted.  We attempted to will our boys to a victory against the invading hordes from Omaha.  As the game came down to the wire neither team was able to pull significantly ahead.  The Links gamely clung to their opponents, refusing to allow the opposition to pull away.  Uhing was Freon.  He was pre-Al Gore Ice Caps.  The team never flinched.  Hovering somewhere above the din, above the tumultuous Molotov Cocktail of our unbridled emotions, was a sense of calm.

The team.  The coaches.  They were oblivious to the bedlam occurring in the Black and Red mosh pit behind their basket.  They were focused and hungry and full of flinty-eyed determination borne of hours spent shooting in stiflingly hot gyms, borne of suicides run from missed free throws (*Author’s note: I’ve seen both of these with my own eyes.  I’ve been in the gyms at Lincoln High in the summer time and they’re Devil’s Oven hot and I’ve seen the looks of teammates when you’re responsible for making them run.  Frankly?  I prefer the heat.) and borne of a stiff, rigid pride that won’t let you turn your head away even if you fear the worst.

With time running down, the Links were down by 1 point.  I honestly don’t remember who drove the ball, but I do remember that he missed.  I remember that the ball seemed to hang for a crystalline moment, suspended in animation, softly perched upon the wishes and hopes of a bug-eyed student body in mid-air.

10 years ago, Nick Madsen went up and tipped in a shot.  At the buzzer.  For the win.  10 years ago the students of Lincoln High school volcanically erupted.  Exploded into a massive, TNT-roar that ripped through our chests and nearly ruptured our vocal chords.  Time had expired and Lincoln High had, again, managed to desperately cling to another victory.  They had survived.  We had survived.  Our student section was a joyous prison riot.  I grabbed the closest student to me and shook him like I was a dirty cop, trying to force a confession.  Screaming, leaping, jumping.  The band wasn’t playing.  The students weren’t worried about who they were suddenly grabbing.  Parking lot beefs were suddenly turned to full-on bearhugs and some people merely stood in a stunned silence.  Simply put, the moment escapes even my most desperate, breathless re-tellings.

(*Author’s note: after I posted this, my brother was able to track down a YouTube video of the fourth quarter.  Say what you want about the quality of video, in 2003 this was as close as you got to HD, but if you just listen to the noise you’ll understand how exciting this game was.)

We rocket-boosted out into the parking lot.  Pouring out.  Holding banners and flags and wearing red, black, and cowsuits (*Author’s note: yes.  A group of students all got together and coordinated the wearing of cowsuits to the game.  They held a banner that read, “Udderly Unbeatable” which I still find to be a stroke of genius even at age 26.  You can never have too many fans in cowsuits, in my opinion, and they set the standard for bovine-crowd interactions.  Eat your heart out, Chik-Fil-A.) we flooded out onto the concrete landings of the stadium sprinting at Usain Boltian speeds.

I still had track practice that day, and ran with red-dye in my hair and flecks of paint dripping down my face.  If we would’ve had a meet that day, based solely on the adrenaline tsunami, I feel certain we could’ve shattered some school records.

We were in the championship game.  After two spinal-spasming-ly close contests we had somehow come out with only one game standing in our way.  We were to play Lincoln Southeast for the state championship.  We would be coming face to face, head to head, crowd to crowd with our biggest rivals.  It would be Montagues and Capulets with jerseys and a ball.  It was to be Sharks and Jets without all that sissy dancing.  We had one team to beat.  We had the team to beat.  We went home that night, joyful rabble-rousers, and prepared ourselves for the biggest game of 2003.

Up next: the thrilling conclusion to the State Title run.  D-Day at the Devaney.

(To Be Continued. . .)

  1. Nick Madsen says:

    Please tell me your name. These are awesome articles that bring back so many good memories from 10 years ago. You’ve encompassed everything that made that whole time so great! I honestly would like to buy you a beer or2!

    • Burnpoetry says:

      Nice! None other than the hero of the Omaha Westside game. I’m Chris Hatch. I graduated in 2005 from LHS. Just wanted to show you guys some love for such a great memory, man. I’ll have to take you up on that beer sometime.

      • Nick Madsen says:

        Thanks Chris! We were all fans, some of us were just lucky to be a part of it on the court. Awesome time my man. And I’m being dead serious, u name the time and place and beers are on me!

  2. david crabtree says:

    Chris you always do an amazing job describing the atmosphere during that great run. I am very happy to have been a part of it and this time of the year always bring back wonderful memories. Thanks for the posting buddy.

    • Burnpoetry says:

      Of course, man. You know me, I love to tell stories, written or otherwise. I thought that, 10 years later, this one needed to be retold. It’s been more fun to write than it has to read, I promise you that. Thanks for stopping by, Crabtree.

  3. Casey Cain (Stanislav) says:

    Can’t wait to read partlll.

  4. Eric Hillgren says:

    I remember that in bound pass so vividly. I’m pretty sure David Crabtree forced that turnover, sick defense! Jake missed the jumper and Nick had the put back!

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