The wild court celebration by members of Norcross High School boys team after they upset Milton for last weekend’s Class AAAAA state championship paled compared to the chaotic scene at the school later that night.
The Norcross boys and girls teams — which swept the respective championships in the state’s largest classification — rode together on the same team bus leaving Gwinnett Arena. They were followed by a caravan of nearly 300 cars to the Norcross gym.
“There were so many people that the police had to direct traffic in front of the school,” said Angie Hembree, coach of the Norcross girls. Hembree was stuck in the traffic, but was waved through when she held the state championship trophy out of her car window for the police to see.
“We got at gym just before the team bus, and the car was almost instantly surrounded by kids jumping up and down,” Hembree said with a laugh. “Some of the kids were coming through the window to give me hugs.”
The veteran coach estimated that nearly 1,000 Norcross supporters appeared for an informal pep rally that lasted about an hour. Said Hembree, “It’s just so special, seeing the pure joy from the kids over what they accomplished. It was a moment that they will never forget for the rest of their lives. I know I won’t.”
The championship was expected for the Norcross girls, but not for the boys, who trailed Milton by 10 points with less than four minutes left before rallying for an improbable 59-55 win. Milton entered the finals as the defending state champion, and ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA and No. 4 in the nation by USA Today.
“I don’t know if there are really upsets in state championship games because the teams that make it that far deserve to be there,” Norcross boys coach Jessie McMillan said. “There’s an old saying, ‘Anything can happen in one game.’ Maybe it was an upset, but not a big upset. Then again, I’m sure there are people that feel that it was a big upset.”
Who is the favorite for next year’s Class AAAAA championship? Wheeler, Milton and Norcross always seem to be in the hunt. Who else and why?