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Tournament brings fans to their feet

December 06, 2005|by HIRA ZEB

Just before Thanksgiving, Saint Maria Goretti High School had all the signs of big-game sports hype and excitement.

Streamers, posters and other blue-and-gold decorations adorned the hallways. The boys varsity basketball players drilled under Coach Cokie Robertson. The air was dense with school spirit.

Saint Maria Goretti hosted the 23rd annual Mid-Atlantic Invitational Tournament on Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26. Attending were three top-notch basketball teams from the region - Bishop Ireton from Alexandria, Va.; John Carroll School from Bel Air, Md.; and William Penn Charter from Philadelphia, Pa. - and the Gaels of Goretti.

Friday night arrived and I came to the Goretti gym just in time to see the end of the first game, as John Carroll lost to Bishop Ireton. Just for this tournament, Goretti students sit on special bleachers up on the stage at one end of the gym. Goretti grads often return to cheer on the Goretti Gaels as well.

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We have a few quaint traditions for the annual basketball invitational. As the opposing team warms up on the court, Goretti students pull out newspapers and engross themselves in reading rather than watch the rival. Then, when the game begins and the Gaels score their first basket, Goretti students throw rolls of toilet paper onto the court amid earsplitting cheers and chants.

This year's game between the Gaels and William Penn Charter was one of the closest games I have ever witnessed. The game ended in a tie, and the players threw themselves eagerly into overtime. Goretti students were on the edge of their seats in anticipation as William Penn and the Gaels battled for victory.

Tied with seconds left on the clock, William Penn scored a basket. The Gaels immediately called a timeout. With only 1.2 seconds left on the clock, the game restarted and senior Gene Johnson made a long shot as a last hope for the Gaels - and scored! The referee blew the final whistle and the fans roared. Goretti fans jumped off stage and ran onto the court to envelope the team in congratulations.

The game was followed by the annual ice cream social, intended to promote friendly relations with the competing teams.

Saturday night's game was also intense, as Goretti played against Bishop Ireton and won. The Goretti Gaels became the champions of the 2005 MAIT.

The school spirit and student-faculty support shown during the tournament weekend was incredible. Goretti junior Ben Alencherry was thrilled with the event.

"I felt totally awesome," he said. "When I saw Gene's ... shot go in, all I remember is people running all over the place, pushing people over. It was a really great feeling because we beat a really tough team."

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