Tonight will be the realization of a dream for a group of Ardmore seniors.
At 7 p.m., the Tigers will tip off against Tulsa Memorial at Sapulpa High School as the final push for a state championship begins.
Getting on that floor — in that environment with people cheering — playing every second like it’s your last because it very well could be.
That is the thing Ardmore’s seniors have been dreaming of since middle school. And it’s a dream that has been denied the previous two years as Ardmore posted two consecutive seven-win seasons.
“It’s been real tough, everybody on the team hates losing,” Chantz White said. “This year, we got blown out of the first game and that sent the message we have to get this done.”
Message received.
Ardmore gained momentum as the season went along, highlighted by a win over No. 1-ranked Carl Albert. Now, as the Tigers face the toughest competition Class 5A has to offer, they are secure in knowing they belong.
“Beating Carl Albert was our biggest accomplishment,” White said.
The experience gained was knowing whoever plays the hardest will win the game, White said. And it’s a lesson that has been learned and developed in practice.
“As a senior, you have to be a leader,” Anthony Willis said. “It’s not a game, you have to go hard.”
Willis acknowledged there is a lot of responsibility to being a senior — and it starts with helping set a tone.
“You don’t want everybody else playing around, not being serious,” Willis said.
The impetus to work hard came in knowing this was the last opportunity. The thing that stands out for Keyshawn Brown is how far the team has come the last two years.
And it comes in playing for each other.
“It’s our senior year,” Jarrod Hall said. “We had to show we are capable of doing more.
“Right after football, we came in and put in hard work.”
Work also took place during the offseason, in the summer months when there is any number of distractions.
“Everybody came in and did some extra work,” Brown said.
And the reward is within grasp. There are eight teams remaining and Ardmore’s resume is impressive, having posted a 19-6 record and a No. 6 ranking. Three wins will net a state championship.
The first team standing between the Tigers and that goal is Tulsa Memorial. But Memorial will be facing more than a team; it will be facing a family.
“We are all a family,” Hall said. “We fight and do a lot of things in practice. But at the end of the day, we shake hands and are we are cool.”
Tulsa Memorial is 18-7 on the season and ranked No. 3 in the state. It’s a lofty ranking, combined with an unbelievable atmosphere. And the time of anticipation is just about over and the real work begins.
“Once the whistle blows, we will be fine,” Hall said.
Added Brown, “We are going to be ready to get to work.”
Given the journey Ardmore has taken to reach state over six years, who could expect anything different.