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

Posted: March 8, 2013 in Sports
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(*Author’s note: it’s been utterly enjoyable writing about Lincoln High basketball’s magical run to their 2003 state title.  Here’s part I.  Here’s part II.  And here, after way too many words, is the final chapter.  If you’ve read this far, you’re truly an endurance athlete.)

The weekend games are always the most fun in the state basketball tournament.  Sure, it’s awesome skipping 2/3 of your classes for the day to paint up like a strange combo of Darth Maul and the least sneaky special ops soldier ever, but having nearly a full day to work yourself into a Seismically active, frothing at the mouth maniac?  That’s what makes Saturday at the State Basketball Tournament better.

You have to understand the rivalry between Lincoln High and Lincoln Southeast at this point in time in order to better understand the intensity between the two teams and fanbases.  In the early-mid 2000’s Southeast was a sports powerhouse.  They were cranking out division I talent in football, basketball, and baseball.  They were routinely among the top teams in the state in basketball, having lost in the previous year’s finals after offing the Links in a brutally tough game in the semi-finals.

When Southeast and Lincoln High’s basketball teams met on the court, the intensity level would catapult off the radar.  Students would camp out for games the moment school got out.  Fights would break out, Principals would wade shoulder deep into student sections in an effort to keep the peace, and fire marshal’s would stop people from getting in at the door due to gyms being over capacity.  It was an old-school, bitter, rivalry that broke bonds and divided friendships.  I knew several kids who were at Southeast.  I thought they were great.  Until it was game time.  Then I would launch into a rapid fire shit-talking attempt to verbally incinerate them and they would immediately fire back.  We would inevitably find ourselves on opposite sides of the court and I believed I was honor-bound to out-shout, out-taunt, and out-cheer whomever stood in opposition to the Red and Black freight train.

The games were always contentious.  They were emotional slugfests that left your scalp tingling, your throat desperately calling for hot liquid, and your adrenal glands ready to go on strike.  By halftime.

I honestly can’t remember if we beat Southeast that year.  I vaguely recall losing to them, but I truly can’t be sure.  (*Author’s note: I know, I know.  I just spent 200 words talking up the games as completely unforgettable.  What can I say?  I’m old.  I’m broken down.  Maybe someone can refresh my memory, when this post comes out.  In the meantime I’ll be crushing up Ginseng and snorting lines of it off my mirror in an effort to stave off my on-rushing senility.)  The bottom line is, when your whole rivalry is predicated on white-hot, liquid-magma, hatred for the opponent revenge isn’t really necessary for motivation.  Ever game against Southeast, whether we won or lost, felt like it was a Quentin Tarantino revenge film reaching its gory climax.  Dlinks Unchained, if you will. (*Author’s note: I apologize.  That’s a little corny, even by my standards.)

As we mad-dashed our way into the student section for the game our rising action was becoming fully complete.  Our deus ex machina was firmly in place.  The slow simmer from part one that I had mentioned, that flickering spark?  It was a boiling, raging, forest fire.  The distant timpani-roll that had been building sonorously since Thursday of that week was now a full on spastic, flaming drum solo so loud it resounded in your lungs.  The tension wasn’t so thick you could cut it with a knife, it was so thick that you would need a logging crew to chainsaw their way through after using TNT to explode open fissure-like crack.

I was 16 and on fire with school pride; radiating with hope that my school, our school, could somehow continue their Nantucket Sleighride towards victory.   I was fully prepared to howl with all my wolfen fury until my lungs exploded like a too-full party balloon that has landed underneath a stiletto heel.  I looked left.  I looked right.  We were a pack.  A rabid, heaving, viscerally charged mass of desperate, pitched longing.  When the band struck up their notes we yowled with unrepentant fervor.

When the team was introduced I screamed like a Bieber-groupie getting backstage passes, hitting pitches and  octaves that, even at 16, would have astounded auditory scientists.  Fortunately, I was one voice among many, many, cheers and my own voice was swallowed up by the ever-increasing decibel detonation coming from the student section.  It was death metal concert loud.  It was shuttle launch loud.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the Devaney center as fiery before a game has even tipped before or since.

Once the game began our manic chants and hoarsely defiant screams filled the air.  We wanted to pay back Southeast for the previous year.  We wanted to assert ourselves as the basketball power in the city; in the state.  We wanted vengeance.

Immediately things started going wrong for the Links.  Shots weren’t falling.  The offense wasn’t flowing.  The team battled, to be sure, determined to outwork their slow start.  Southeast started scoring.  They were hitting buckets.  They were rebounding.  They had all the answers on defense.  An icy finger of doubt slid down my spine; a creeping, uncomfortable caress.

Southeast seemingly had the answer for everything.  There was a subtle riptide pulling at our ankles, tugging us out and away from our steel-mill-hot passion.  We fought it.  We kicked and screamed and tried to head against the current.  Southeast just kept pulling ahead.  As the first quarter was drawing to a close the Links still hadn’t hit a basket.  Or a free throw.

I had completely depleted my repertoire of swear words at this point.

Desperately I searched for  anyone who might be bi-lingual to bail me out with new cuss words but, upon Southeast scoring yet again I broke the search off and went to my tried and true, old school American curses.  I was driven to inventing brand new f-bomb combos, stringing together obscenities like a foreign cabbie in rush hour who didn’t quite have a handle on the English language yet.  The quarter ended with Southeast up 13-0.  The Links had inexplicably been shut out.

Coach Uhing was liquid nitrogen.  He was a human Polar Bear Plunge.  The team fed off this calm.

We did not.

Eyes bulging.  Sweating like I had just gotten done playing in the game myself.  Mind reeling.  I was a meth-lab of emotions.  I hadn’t given up.  Oh, no.  But I was drastically, stringently worried.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I had never seen our team get blanked in the first quarter of a game.  With Southeast up  by 13 the lead certainly wasn’t insurmountable but it was sizeable.

The Southeast fans were on a rampage.  There was blood in the water and they were hungry.  They were Shark Week in HD, swarming viciously with their teeth out and their hands high in the air, high-fiving hard enough to amputate.  I don’t blame them.  They were thunderously pleased with their team’s performance, holding their distraction-balloons high into the air in the shape of zeros.  They were the bellows pumping onto the hot, bitter coals of our would-be vengeance.  They scored again at the start of the second half.

We found ourselves firmly strapped in on the front car of a cocaine roller coaster.

They had 15.  We had nothing.

They had 15.  We had each other.

We had our team.  We had the immutable, foolhardy hope of die-hard believers, even though the light was flickering and the clock was ticking.

Our intensity rose.  Combustion engine firing on anger and pride and that all-too-familiar feeling of our shoulder blades meeting the wall with nowhere further to retreat to.

Suddenly we scored our first basket.  Then we scored another.  We redoubled our fanaticism.  Cajoling.  Pleading.  Fighter-plane loud as our boys engaged in evasive maneuvers in the on court dogfight.  Basket by basket.  Inch by inch.  The Lincoln High Links were pulling themselves out of the freshly dug grave of a scoreless first quarter, zombies coming back once more.  No longer was this a bloody stomping.  This was Rocky in the 12th round, toe to toe.

To be honest, the rest of the game blurs a little to me from here.  It’s like an epic watercolor that sort of ran together into a beautiful palette of colors and images.  A big shot here.  A big stop there.  The team’s bench imploring the fans to keep the intensity level high.  Uhing clapping calmly, as if he was at a mediocre theater production.

By the time we took the lead, we were in a state of delirium.  The cadaver of the first quarter had somehow been Frankenstein-ed back to life.  Stitched together, an amalgam of pieces playing their part, and lightning bolted to accelerating life.  I’ve never heard the Devaney Center louder before or since.  Lincoln High Alum, some of the proudest I’ve known, responded to our energy.  Parents and students and players alike leaping to their feet.

We ended up winning the game, that day 10 years ago, by 5 points.  Scoring 43 points in the final three quarters we were able to outlast the Southeast Knights.  Though I never would have admitted it at the time, they fought valiantly.  (*Author’s note: I can only clearly assess our rival school now, 10 years in the future, if that’s any indication of how heated our rivalry was.)

As the final horn sounded, anointing a new king in the State of Nebraska, we detonated.  Mt. Vesuvius met Pompeii and our student section spontaneously combusted into madness.  People were falling, crying, jumping wildly into the air.  Insecure young men were hugging passionately and everyone, everyone, felt like we had just conquered the world.

It was 10 years ago.  I was 16.  And it still gives me goosebumps to recount the scene.

Our team, ever conscious of their rowdy and reckless fans, their hooligans, stood in front of the student section and let us buffet them with a joyful typhoon.  Holding their jerseys up for all in the stadium to see.  Lincoln High, they said.  “Lincoln High” we screamed.  Our pride was radiant.

Coach Uhing smiled.

The team climbed ladders and cut down nets.  They were given medals and a trophy and an assembly where the entire school attended, cheering like lunatics for the guys that had finally brought home a state basketball title.  They had blazed through collective, beating-as-one hearts, and etched their names in neon across the remainder of the school year.

They had done it.  They had successfully climbed the mountaintop.  They were Sir Edmund Hilary.  And we fancied ourselves their Tenzing Norgays.

They had won for themselves.  They had one for each other.  They had won for black and for red and for the coaches who believed in them all along.

They had won for Lincoln High.

Whether or not they knew it that day, they had won for us.

(*Author’s note: the best part of writing this absurdly long, self-indulgent memoir has been all the people who have shared what their experiences at these games were like.  Whether it was former players, former students, or anyone lucky enough to have been cheering for the Links that year, everyone was — and still is– moved by the victories.

If you made it through this rambling piece, feel free to offer your own testimony in the comments section.  I was blown away by how many of us still care so deeply about this team and that time in our lives.  I would love to know where you were when the horn sounded or what you were thinking when the clock hit zero.  Thanks for reading.  Go Links.)


  1. This game even made it on the Omaha World Herald’s timeline of the Devaney Center. Pic of Colin, quote from Jake.

    It certainly is my best memory at the Devaney. Such a good game! The comeback still seems like it was written for a movie. I wasn’t a huge basketball fan before the season started, I was more a fan of our school. However, during and after that 2003 season, I became well acquainted with the rules and fell in love with the sport.

    • Burnpoetry says:

      Yeah, Codah. I think a lot of people felt the same way. That’s part of what made it so fun. Even people who normally weren’t sports fans wanted LHS to get the “W” just as bad as the die-hards.

  2. madhat says:

    I was in the parent section and we were screaming and high-fiving and hugging and riding the wave with all the LHS fans that memorable day!!! Thanks for capturing it in all its intensity.

  3. Madeleine Madsen says:

    I just remember Jakes mom and me pausing to sit down with our heads between our knees to keep the blood flow regulated. What a great day to be a Link…thank you for the memories…nicely done.

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