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A breed apart

City turns out to honor state champ Bulldogs

City turns out to honor state champ Bulldogs

March 26, 2009|By TIM KOELBLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Mother Nature slammed the door on a parade but couldn't quell the indoor festivities on Thursday at Martinsburg High School's Fieldhouse.

The pep band played and fans cheered in honor of the Martinsburg Bulldogs, who won West Virginia's 2009 Class AAA boys basketball championship on Saturday with a victory over South Charleston.

Players and coaches were the center of attention at midcourt as plenty of proclamations and certificates were handed out to the champions, who may have had the best time of all following the ceremony.

The Bulldogs, who have become instant icons, sat on a high-rise stage in the cafeteria and signed autographs for not only the next generation of players, but for enthusiastic adults as well.

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Martinsburg Mayor George Karos opened the ceremony by telling the players "they brought pride to the city, the community and the high school and that everyone is so pleased with them."

Martinsburg coach Dave Rogers, who is always attired in a suit for game, dressed a little more casually in a sweater vest on this night and Superintendent of Berkeley County Schools Manny Arvon didn't let that go unnoticed.

"Welcome to Mr. Rogers' neighborhood," said Arvon, who attended the state tournament.

Along with the state title, Arvon said he was equally impressed with other intangibles the Bulldogs players showed.

"Sitting behind the bench at Saturday's game I could see the boys had a great attitude," he said. "You could see they were on a mission and they handled themselves so well that makes us all proud of Martinsburg."

Arvon then read a proclamation on behalf of West Virginia Governor Joe Mancin. The original document was given to school principal Regina Phillips and copies to each of the players.

Phillips, who also attended the games, said with a smile that it was karma for the Bulldogs to win the title in her first year as principal.

"Muhammad Ali said in 1975 that 'champions are made from something inside ... dream, desire and vision and that the will must be stronger than the skill,'" Phillips told the crowd.

Rogers said the final game of the 2007-08 season -- a loss to Woodrow Wilson in the state quarterfinals -- was a wakeup call.

"There was so much they learned from that game," said Rogers. "I'm so impressed with how they handled themselves on and off the floor. There were adversities during the season they overcame and they did so because they were united."

The only previous championship came in 1994. Some of those champions were in attendance.

"There were a lot of similarities between that team and this one," he said. "Both teams had height, rebounded, refused to lose and had team chemistry."

The next piece of business -- raising a banner.

"When this school opened in 1928 and with our tradition, this will be only the ninth state championship banner that will be hung," said athletic director Greg Reed. "It just shows how tough it is to accomplish something like this."

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