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Greencastle, JB fans witness history

March 21, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Dick Heckman knows a thing or two about Franklin County athletics, having been a coach and athletic director at James Buchanan High School for many years.

So Heckman knows history when he sees it - and he and more than 2,500 others witnessed a lot of it Tuesday night at Shippensburg University's Heiges Field House when Mid-Penn Capital rivals JB and Greencastle-Antrim collided in the PIAA Class AAA boys basketball state semifinals.

"I think it's the biggest sporting event Franklin County has ever had," Heckman said. "It's amazing that two teams from the same division, the same district and the same county are here (in the state semifinals).

"People I haven't seen at games for years and years are here."

The bleachers on both sides of the court were packed, and fans were lining the security railings at both ends 30 minutes before the 8 p.m. tipoff.

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On Monday, tickets for sale at both schools were gone about an hour after they were first available.

"We never expected the surge in ticket sales," Greencastle athletic director Vicki Ritchey said. "Each team was originally given 1,000, and when it became clear we would sell out, (PIAA official) Mark Byers gave each school 250 more.

"It was chaotic, but exciting. It was the hottest commodity in Greencastle, tickets to this game. It was bigger than anyone anticipated."

Ritchey, who has coached Blue Devils sports for 20 years and is in her first year as athletic director, could not recall a bigger event.

"Nothing even comes close to this," she said. "I wasn't part of the boys state baseball final that we lost in, that could have been as big. But this is the biggest thing I've seen."

Both teams had to win three state tournament games to reach Tuesday's semifinal - neither team had won a state playoff game in its history.

Had one coin flip turned out differently, none of it would ever have happened.

"When the power ratings for the district tournament were announced, JB and Lebanon were tied for fourth," Heckman said. "JB won the coin flip. Had they lost, Greencastle and JB would have played in the first round (of districts), and this would never have happened because one of them would not have made the state tournament. So that just makes this even more remarkable.

"How this has all worked out to this point, it feels like both teams' destiny. But this is not a fluke, both teams have beaten top seeds."

Tuesday's game drew supporters for both schools, as well as those with local basketball ties, such as Waynesboro boys coach Tom Hoffman - whose Indians battled JB and Greencastle twice each in the Capital conference.

"It's about as neat as it gets," Hoffman said. "It's been great representation for our county. It's been a real treat to watch. ... It just makes us understand how good our division was, and makes us appreciate being a part of it."

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