E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals get party started

Sacred Heart returns to a heroes’ welcome after winning second straight state title

Class 1A Final Four MVP Diante Wood (center) and his teammates greet the fans upon arriving from Birmingham with their second state championship. On the cover, coach Ralph Graves dances with some of the younger fans.

Class 1A Final Four MVP Diante Wood (center) and his teammates greet the fans upon arriving from Birmingham with their second state championship. On the cover, coach Ralph Graves dances with some of the younger fans.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

They asked Sacred Heart guard D.J. Heath after the Cardinals won their second straight state championship Thursday what the players were going to do to commemorate the historic occasion.

“We partied for a day and a half last year,” he said. “We’re going to try to make it four days this time.”

The party started at the team hotel Thursday night, shortly after the Cardinals put the finishing touches on their 95-75 win over Georgiana, and carried over to the school Friday when they arrived back on campus. The entire student body along with parents and other supporters lined the entrance as the team’s motorcade arrived via police escort.

Of course, when the travel party, which included Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart in the escort car, exited the vehicles, it was to strains of “We Are The Champions” blaring from the loudspeakers.

“You don’t get this everywhere,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “To come home to this … I’ve been a part of a few state championships, we never came home to this.”

“I think this is better than last year — way better,” tournament MVP Diante Wood said.

“We did it for them,” Kevion Nolan chimed in. “We did it for our school. We played for the name on the front of our jersey.”

After the hugs and pictures and dancing with the crowd, Graves, Heath, Wood, lone senior Sam Miller and new-found 3-point specialist Caleb Lafollette all addressed the crowd.

Graves was happy to see his players having fun and enjoying the moment.

“These are experiences you never get back and some people never get to experience these things,” he said. “You have to have a good time because you never know what next year brings.”

The Cardinals’ season included a sweep of all their Class 1A opponents and four victories over Class 7A teams. They also had to overcome the distraction of charges they recruit players to fill their roster, charges they adamantly deny.

“These young men react to controversy, these guys react to tight ball games; these guys are what it’s all about,” Sacred Heart principal Charlie Maniscalco said. “You don’t see them sitting there making excuses. No excuses. That’s this bunch. And when you have that you have a bunch of winners. That’s exactly what we have here at Sacred Heart Catholic: a bunch of winners.”
There’s a bigger school with a rich basketball tradition across town that currently has a vacancy for a head basketball coach. It just happens to be Graves’ alma mater – Anniston – but he was quick to squash any talk of him being a candidate to succeed his high school coach, Schuessler Ware.

He told the crowd Friday he would “stay rooted” at Sacred Heart and be an “advocate” for them and their mission. He later spoke excitedly about a group of sixth-grade players “who have been waiting on the moment they put on a Sacred Heart jersey” and represent the future of the program.

“As long as God places me here I will go nowhere,” he said. “I guess a lot of people feel I’m obligated to go back there (Anniston); I’m not. Everybody will understand that. The person who makes my decision is me; the person who leads my decision is God. As of right now, they need a coach; I don’t need a job.”

After seeing the turnout was for Friday’s celebration, Heath may have put a premature deadline on the life of the party.

“The party doesn’t end until the season starts next year,” Miller said. “We’re going to keep it rolling.”



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