The LaBrae High School boys basketball team didn't just get an escort from emergency vehicles when they left the school complex Wednesday morning for Columbus and their state semifinal showdown today.
They got a rather loud escort from their fellow students and fans in a sendoff that began with a pep rally in the high school gymnasium and ended with rousing cheers through the halls of the elementary school, where many of the teammates first began playing basketball together.
After the rally, fans lined North Leavitt Road as the bus, escorted by police and fire vehicles, made its way out of town. Several trees and the bridge over the Mahoning River were decorated in red and gray, the Vikings' colors.
Inside the gym, the players and coaches were introduced by athletic director Todd Rowe, who told the students the team needs their voices today. The Vikings take on Versailles at 2 p.m. for the right to advance to the Division III final.
''Our community and our spirit has been brought to the surface,'' Rowe said. ''Thank you for your attitude and support.''
Head coach Chad Kiser praised the students for the noise they made.
Jennifer Beachler, left, a 1992 LaBrae graduate, waves streamers Wednesday along with other supporters as the LaBrae basketball team heads out.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
''You guys are the loudest student section I've ever heard,'' Kiser said. ''It helps fuel us. Show up. Be loud.''
District officials canceled classes today so students can attend the game in Columbus.
Players Peyton Aldridge and John Richards also addressed the crowd, but Richards' remarks were almost drown out by the cheering.
''Thanks for supporting us,'' Aldridge said. ''We're not going to disappoint you guys.''
That last comment also got a very loud roar.
Outside, LaBrae alum Jennifer Beachler said she decided to come out on a cold, windy day to see the team off because she knows several players and to also show her support.
''This community is about team support,'' said Beachler, who was a 1992 graduate.
Her husband, David, while not a LaBrae graduate, also wanted to show his support.
''This is history in the making,'' he said.