GLENS FALLS, N.Y. - Tears were shed. Heads were hung. Consoling hugs replaced fist bumps as signature emotional displays. For all five Long Island basketball teams, this was March Sadness. But even though three boys teams and two girls squads didn't advance in their state tournament brackets, there was a common thread: From Brentwood to Glenn; from Harborfields to Baldwin; from Friends to best friends, the journey was worth it. It was a lost weekend on the court; but off it, there was much gain amid the pain. They wouldn't have missed it for the world.
"Your character is something special. The way you competed; the way you carried yourselves was special. You were humble and hungry. Not many can do that." Those were the words of Brentwood coach Anthony Jimenez to his team after the Indians' 52-44 loss to Green Tech. Similar words were undoubtedly spoken in the locker rooms after other games involving Long Island teams this weekend.
After all, every one of them was a Long Island champion: Brentwood boys and Baldwin girls in Class AA; Glenn boys and Harborfields girls in Class A; Friends Academy boys in Class C. Long Island champions. That really is something. In football, L-I-C spells ultimate team success because our teams don't participate in the state tournament.
I'm not suggesting that teams in other sports decline participation in the state tournament, nor am I advocating abolishment of such events. But occasionally, LIC seasons are underappreciated or in some cases taken for granted because of states.
In other cases, losses upstate become motivational forces for future trips. "I've got to get back here next year," Brentwood guard Mike Almonacy said, determinedly. "And win it!"
A noble goal, of course, but it should be remembered that the journey can be as important as the destination. Enjoy the moment -- the hilarity of the bus ride; the bonding over meals and meetings; the camaraderie in game preparation. The community and school support.
How about those ubiquitous lime-green T-shirts that read "Wood Nation." Yes, hundreds of them made the trip up the thruway, and the bodies inside them cheered Brentwood throughout the game. And when it was over, plenty of T-shirted fans stood and cheered as the Brentwood players trudged off the court.
That's why Jimenez reminded his players, "People who sometimes struggle financially did everything they could to come up here and watch. They don't care about anything else but supporting you. So you can always carry your head up high when you walk through the school, when you go to the prom; when you graduate. You know that you did something unique and special. It was your team and the strength and power came from within."
The Brentwood players got the coach's message, applauding at the end of his speech.
All the Long Island schools that lost this weekend appeared to appreciate what they gained. "We left everything on the court. I'm proud to be standing here with these guys," Friends senior Jack Forlines said on Friday. "This was an unbelievable experience."
Glenn coach Charly Rogener basked in similar pride. "The Queensbury hotel people told us how great our kids were. They were great on the bus ride up. Everything they did was five-star and high class," he said.
Even after his Harborfields girls suffered their first loss of the season on Friday, coach Russ Tietjen told them, "Look back on the entire picture, not just this game."
Baldwin coach Tom Catapano didn't despair over his girls' loss on Friday. "This is a special group of kids and I'm super-proud of them," he said. "Any time you can be a Long Island champ, it's a special year."