Charleston Catholic students march to their team's victory
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For most students attending the West Virginia high school basketball tournament, riding a bus or catching a ride with family or friends is the only way to get to the Charleston Civic Center.
Charleston Catholic High School students could only laugh Thursday morning as they walked past school buses full of students from other counties. Located on Virginia Street, Charleston Catholic is less than a mile away from the Civic Center. The students, clad in green shirts and leprechaun hats, chanted and cheered as they made the trip to the state tournament by foot.
Principal Debra Sullivan said the tradition is unique to Charleston Catholic students because of its location in the heart of downtown Charleston. And Irish baseball coach Bill Mehle said it's a tradition they get to take advantage of often -- the Irish boys basketball team has made the tournament every year for the past 10 years.
"We pride ourselves on being a really close community," Mehle said. "This is an expression of ourselves as a community and it helps build our community as well."
More than 400 students, grades six through 12, walked down Kanawha Boulevard through the brisk morning air Thursday. Catherine Casingal lead the pack, holding up a cardboard cutout of a basketball team member's head as motorists passed by.
"It's just really exciting for us, especially because it's nice weather today, and we're just excited to support our boys team in the state tournament for another year in a row," Casingal said.
Rain? Snow? No problem. Students have weathered the elements in the past, all in the name of school spirit.
"We've done it in pretty cold weather," Casingal said. "I'm pretty sure we've walked in the snow before."
"Yes, we have!" Sullivan interrupted.
"It's definitely cold, but, I mean, anything to get to see the boys play," Casingal said.
Connor Golden and Noah Cable are Charleston Catholic seniors. They have made countless walks to the Civic Center and to Appalachian Power Park, where the state baseball tournament is hosted.
"It's a real blessing that we're downtown and we're able to walk to all of our games here, boys and girls," Golden said. "It looks cool when all our students come down and we're all walking together. We come in, we fill in the student section - it just looks a lot better."
"It's really rowdy on the way up there," Cable added. "We get really pumped up and just enjoy the whole walk there. We're just really excited for the game. Everyone walks together and enjoys it the whole time."
The students get various reactions as they walk through downtown Charleston in a huge line, chanting and clapping their way to the Civic Center.
"We get a lot of honks. Supportive honks, I hope so," Cable laughed. "And we get thumbs up and stuff. It's pretty fun."
Golden said the Irish won the school spirit award for the girls state tournament last week. Bigger schools bring bigger student sections to the tournaments, but Golden and Cable think the Irish student section stands out because of the close-knit community within the small private school.
"We're all united together. We all walk together. We are family, and that's just how we roll," Cable said.
"We're a community. We're not just a school," Sullivan said. "We take very seriously our family nature, and this is something families do. They support each other."
Sullivan agreed that the family atmosphere among the students is unique and more evident than ever when the Irish student section marches through the streets of Charleston to support the school's athletes.
"We are a very close-knit group of students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni," Sullivan said. "The Charleston Catholic experience is not, I think, your typical high school experience."
The Irish cruised past Valley Fayette 54-44 in the 9:30 a.m. matchup to advance to the semifinal round of the tournament. Charleston Catholic will play Notre Dame in a battle of the Irish at 11:15 a.m. Friday.