If you think, for even a second, that championships are what the state basketball tournament — both of them — is about, you’ve completely missed the point.

“It’s been a rare occasion where there has not been a smile on our faces,” Dundy County-Stratton junior Nicole Kent said yesterday, enjoying the final moments of the Class C1 final from section 120 of Pinnacle Bank Arena. “We are still very happy — runner-up is not too shabby at all.”

Mission accomplished for coach Nathan Behlke and his team. Even if it ended one game short of the top prize after O’Neill St. Mary’s ended the Tigers season at 28-1 in a 52-33 championship game victory.

They’ll note that these Tigers and the rest of their schoolmates missed three days of school to attend, cheer or participate in the state tournament. But, they would be wrong. School was in session if you are supposed to learn life lessons — be a great teammate, others above self, discipline, hard work — all the stuff you can’t learn in Calculus.

“The whole team. The family, I guess, all of us together,” Kent said. “On the bus, in the hotels, has been just a crazy experience. People I don’t even know are coming up and giving me hugs in the hallway. It’s been crazy this week.”

Yes, the state basketball tournament is also about, well, education, community spirit and working towards a common goal. All things that will make Kent — and any of her teammates, mind you — excellent employees someday. A great parent, too. Heck, maybe coach.

But, yes, that sense of community. That sticks out to Kent, too.

“The community and the support behind us throughout this whole week — the whole season, really — has been absolutely amazing,” she said. “Before we left on Wednesday, we had a half-hour pep rally, all about the team and state.

“We got a big send off and drove that huge coach bus through town with the firetrucks and sirens going off. We drove up and down main street before we left town.”

And, it wasn’t just in Benkleman — the Dundy County seat that you can’t even get a look of on Google street maps — it was was down Highway 34 in Stratton as well.

“We got to Stratton and people were waiting for us; we almost hit people in Stratton. They were standing in the median.”

That said, the memories on the court are special, too. Kent will have a hard time forgetting Thursday’s come-from-behind 59-58 overtime win over Humphrey St. Francis. She smiled, asked about a memory she won’t forget.

“There are so many things, but the first thing that comes to my head is Kaylee Burke’s free throw,” Kent said, of Burke’s game winner with 1.7 seconds left. “I’ll never forget it. Maybe in the stands you couldn’t see it, but lined up close she was shaking so bad. It’s amazing that she could focus and get that ball in. I would have been shaking, too.”

So, it goes another state tournament with memories and life experience is in the books. The girls from DCS made the most of their experience. With everybody coming back, they might just get to do it again. But, they’ll need all the stuff they learned to earn the chance to do it one more time.

Community Spirit

The Norfolk girls team captured the attention of the whole state this week after they advanced to the state finals. Two weeks ago, they were 11-12 entering district play. What captured us, in a class where student sections could seem to almost care less, was the crowd that came with the Panthers.

All, three thousand of them.

It was not lost on star Jaycee Bradley, who tied a Class A tournament record with 34 points in the Panthers 46-37 win over top-ranked, undefeated and defending champion Omaha Benson. They had won 45 straight.

It was also not lost on Norfolk boys coach Ben Ries, who will bring an undefeated favorite to Lincoln this Thursday.

One thing’s for sure, the town will show up.

All Those Years

Even recalling it the next day, NSAA Assistant Director Jon Dolliver had goose bumps. And, maybe, even a twinkle in his eyes. Dolliver and administrative assistant Ashton Honnor had managed to bring back eight players — some from as far as Fargo, North Dakota — and four coaches from the 1977 and 1979 Class B state championship teams from York.

“It was pretty cool,” Dolliver said on Saturday morning before the finals began. “To see them all together, with their coach after all of these years.”

In the infancy of the girls tournament — the Dukes were the first and third Class B champions — players were just given a small medal; nothing like the participants are given now in the post game ceremonies. But, what’s waiting 35 years, right?

“We had them in the back room,” Dolliver said, “waiting for them to go out on the floor for the ceremony and one of the players says, ‘Can Coach (Tom) Sheppard give us our medals. He never got to do that when we won.”

And, so they went. One by one. Honnor serving as impromptu public address announcer with each player getting their medal and a hug from their coach.

To think the state tournament isn’t teaching is, well, missing the point.