The Avoca-Prattsburgh players celebrate winning a state title. Corinne Wright photo.
Story and videos by JOHN ANDERSON
When the girls’ basketball teams in Avoca and Prattsburgh merged a four years ago because of declining numbers in the two school districts, it raised a few eyes, but not many in the two communities.
In 2019, it was obvious something had to be done across the board. By 2020, the modified boys’ basketball program had a total of five players with a combined team. This winter, it was 11. In the fall, the boys’ and girls’ soccer JV soccer programs stopped play during the season when numbers were too low. The two districts were only able to field a modified and varsity team by the end of the season.
During separate board of education meetings in February, the unthinkable happened for many graduates of the two districts. The rival districts would merge in all sports by March 1, 2022.
The terms “bleeding green and white” or “bleeding maroon and gold” would phase away like mascot names. Voting on new school colors and a mascot started taking place.
Every single move was under a microscope for the administration. Where practices were held, which uniforms were worn, which gyms or fields were used.
The basketball season was in full swing and reality was settling in. Fans were sitting next to other fans they used to tell each other to “start the bus” late in a game. Their kids now rode the same bus. And they didn’t want it to start, they wanted to win.
There was another positive thing, social media. Just kidding, social media is the worst.
But the girls basketball team kept winning. And the boys kept winning. Rivals from two schools on a cold Feb. 9 night rode together for a regular season game in Victor. Because of scheduling opening up a regular season game for Lyons and Avoca-Prattsburgh, fans would be treated to a battle between the No. 1 team in New York States in Class C and Class D, respectively.
When the Avoca-Prattsburgh fans filled into the Victor gym, they noticed other fans from the Southern Tier in the gym cheering on A-P as well. The Class D team was the David to Goliath. Thanks to a great decision by Section V, the administrations from not only the two schools, but Victor, the game was played.
A-P won a track meet that night, 82-79 to remain undefeated. How big was the game? In the hallway next to the Zamboni at the Glens Falls Civic Center, less than an hour after winning a New York State championship, a few of the players said looking back, that was their favorite moment until they held the state champion plaque.
It was bigger than winning a sectional title by one or outlasting two tough opponents in the regionals and final four. Maybe they realized the moment was bigger than the game.
Less than a month later on March 1, the girls’ basketball team reached the semifinals of sectionals and had a slim lead at halftime. The family members and fans in the stands heard commotion coming from the hallway.
It was the boys’ team, tired from a hard-fought win, who rode over an hour on a school bus to come support the girls from Avoca-Prattsburgh.
The moment wasn’t quite Rocky trying to appeal to the Russian audience after beating Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, but the message was sent: The kids liked playing together and were grateful for the opportunity to have sports for boys and girls at each level.
Saturday in Glens Falls, A-P faced Heuvelton in the state finals, and boy did Heuvelton bring a large and loud fan base of students and community members, turning half the arena into a sea of purple.
On the other side, the white, green and maroon cheered just as loud.
When the game ended and A-P was crowned state champions, the student-athletes made their way to the corner of the arena for photos. Parents and grandparents were coming over the boards like they were skating out for a power play. The hugging took place. Not just the kids, but parents from both communities hugging each other. They grew up as rivals and in recent years cheered against each other.
Now they were embracing.
“I told the team in the locker room, not many people get to be where you are right now as state champions,” said A-P coach Brian Putnam. “There wasn’t enough firepower in Avoca and Prattsburgh to do this. It’s satisfying because of the kids, bringing the two communities together and sharing this. We thanked the administrations, This was an incredible thing for the kids to share.”
Pacey Hopkins was the last remaining Avoca player from three seasons ago. The Prattsburgh students on the team talked about wanting to win a state title for him. By Saturday, who went where was never discussed. They were one team with one dream.
“It’s a nice feeling,” said Hopkins. “Two years ago, people said we were ‘just a Viking’ or ‘just a Tiger.’ Our team knew we would always be together, it didn’t matter if it was Prattsburgh or Avoca. However, winning this state title makes people realize we are one team, not just Prattsburgh or Avoca.”
Sophomore Macoy Putnam stood on the court holding his state final four tournament MVP plaque and looked around at the crowd. His father, Brian, the coach, won a state title in 1991 with Prattsburgh under coach Jim Burke and he grew up playing on the same court and in the gym named after Coach Burke. But some of his greatest games were home games in the Avoca gym. And he has loved every minute of it.
“It’s amazing seeing both communities come together,” the sophomore said. “And now? It’s one big fan base and it’s awesome.”
Senior Caleb Johnson will be part of that group of graduates and community members next season.
“We came together as family this year and as a result, these guys next year have a lot of great things coming for themselves,” Johnson said. “And it’s going to keep growing like that.”
(John Anderson is the editor of the Hornell Sun. He can be reached at [email protected])
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