CLAREMORE — “Whatever it takes.”
That’s the only way to describe the heartbeat of the 2009-10 Claremore Zebras.
On the court, they play with true grit and determination.
Off the court, they wear smiles, display great character and always say, ‘Yes Ma’am’ and ‘No Sir.’
Respect is something these eight seniors learned 15 years ago as toddlers and future Zebras. The parents of these men should take a bow because there’s not a finer group of basketball players in the state of Oklahoma than the ones donning the red-and-white Claremore uniforms.
For most of these guys, a basketball has been in their hand since 1995 - the last time Claremore reached the boys state basketball tournament.
And, who would have thought that 15 years later in 2010, history would be repeating itself. Of course, this senior class wants to be remembered for something more.
“They’re not content with getting to the state tournament,” Zebras head coach Tim Stewart said. “They want to be the first class that has won it all.”
In 1995, the Zebras came within a game of playing for the whole enchilada, however their season ended in the semifinals.
A week ago, the Zebras needed a game-winning basket from senior guard Ben James to continue their quest toward bringing home the state championship trophy.
Stewart, who will celebrate his 39th birthday later this year, remembers 1995 as if he were still walking the halls of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
“That was the year that I graduated and got my first coaching job,” Stewart said. “I was a junior high and varsity assistant basketball coach at Glenpool.”
And now Stewart is 38, married to a wonderful wife and the father of an amazing son, who enjoys cartoons and spending time playing H-O-R-S-E inside the Frank Mobra Field House with his brothers - the 17 members of this year’s Claremore basketball team.
Each member of this team, including the eight seniors, have gained the respect not only of their coach, but Eastern Oklahoma and the city of Claremore.
This team has also won the most games in school history with 24 victories.
This team also went undefeated inside the Frank Mobra Field House, marking the first time in school history.
And hopefully, come Saturday at 3 p.m. when the final buzzer sounds inside the Mabee Center, this team will be hoisting Claremore’s first state championship trophy at center court.
“Right now, we’re 24-2,” Stewart said. “Hopefully by Saturday, we’ll be 27-2.”
Where there is a ‘will’, these Zebras find a ‘way’.
(Tim Ritter is sports editor of the Claremore Daily Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)