Amped and ready
Hundreds of Rugby High School basketball fans packed the bleachers Tuesday at Charles Hanneman Gymnasium.
The crowd was loud, proud and near bonkers at the pep rally for the 25-0 boys basketball team, which left the next day for the Class B State Tournament in Grand Forks.
Cheerleaders led chants, the Panther mascot prowled for cheers and six of the players participated in the Mr. Panther pageant. The environment was loose for a team with the pressure of capturing the program’s first state championship since the 1962 team won the Class A title.
RHS coach Mike Santjer addressed the crowd, thanking the fans for support and discussing how hard his boys worked for District 11 and Region 6 titles and a No. 1 seed at state.
“So for these boys to be 25-0 in the state, it’s not surprising,” Santjer said.
The Region 6 Coach of the Year told the crowd he received an e-mail of support from Paul Presthus, the hero of the 1962 team.
The pep rally started with a spotlight shining on individual cheerleaders, players, coaches and managers as each was introduced with the lights out.
Chris Hamilton and Jaedon Haman, the team’s two seniors, also expressed their gratitude to the fans. The pair was then joined by juniors Tanner Bernhardt, Brad Heidlebaugh, Eric Hooker and Nolan Hovland in the Mr. Panther pageant.
The crowd exploded in laughter as the boys showed off their dance moves and the cheerleaders asked questions for goofy responses.
The cheerleaders then blindfolded the seniors in order to make them guess which cheerleader was planting a kiss on their cheeks. The boys mothers actually did the honors.
It was an emotional moment for Sue Hamilton and Tammy Haman before sending their sons off to a second straight state tournament.
“It’s what you always dream of from, basically, first grade on for Chris and his dad and Jaedon and his dad,” Sue Hamilton said. “They coached them and took them to so many tournaments.”
Said Tammy Haman: “I know they’ve put a lot of work into this. They started in first grade and started traveling in fourth grade, and what a great reward with all the years put into this. It’s awesome.”
The pep rally ended with the players signing custom T-shirts and handkerchiefs for the state tournament.
Fans sent the team off with a gathering at Shopko on Wednesday afternoon.
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