National runner-up given hero's welcome
Note to Fans: Please send photos of the team's return (e-mail below)
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- There’s nothing quite like a warm hero’s welcome to a team still sore from suffering a loss the night before on national TV.
The men’s basketball team from Southwestern Assemblies of God University, after nine nights in Kansas City at the NAIA’s championship tournament, ended a long, quiet return bus trip on Wednesday evening.
The surprising Lions had, like the chorus from Jack Johnson’s song, turned “the whole thing upside down” with a thrilling run to the national championship.
SAGU, the new kid on the block, won the hearts of new fans everywhere by their infectious play in winning four straight games. They came up short in the title game on Tuesday night, their fifth game in seven days.
Humbled and finding solace a hard pill to swallow, they rode back to campus to receive a welcome generally reserved for champions.
After exiting I-35 south onto Old Highway 77, they were greeted by Ellis County Sheriffs. Their vehicles were lit up with flashing lights and blaring sirens. The next few minutes saw them guide the way through town for the Lions charter bus.
Welcoming waves from Waxahachie residents, some flashing thumbs-up signs, was so uplifting there tears inside the bus.
As the players filed off the bus, cheers and glad-handers circled them. Posters, lights, cameras and smiles were overwhelming to a team disappointed with their play the night before.
Their faces were shrouded with hoodies moments earlier were suddenly covered in silly string. It was a smile-maker's moment.
While the team stood in front of Sheaffer Center, Donnie Bostwick, the team’s second year Head Coach, spoke to the crowd.
His voice cracked as he spoke fondly about the team’s commitment to the healing journey for David Bush, and the prayers yielded in his behalf.
Recent tests returned last month gave Bush, a Stage 4 warrior, a cancer-free bill of health. That was a huge victory for David and his wife, Joy, as well as the team and intercessors.
The team’s two seniors, James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy) and Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. N.Texas, Connally HS) then shared their feelings.
Ford was respectful and gracious, and then the mild-mannered Ward dodged words altogether by handing the runner-up trophy and a wide hug to SAGU President Kermit Bridges.
Coach Bostwick reserved a special moment to introduce David Leatherberry, the team chaplain. The missionary expressed his love for the team amid tears before he and wife Julie were engulfed in a team embrace.
Dr. Bridges voiced his appreciation for the team, for how proud they have made the school, and for their performance on a national stage.
After eating dinner and hour earlier at Crane’s in Lewisville, the Lions were addressed by Bostwick. He reminded the team of their need, like a man ending his vacation, to get back to work on Thursday. Bostwick spoke of getting up for class and getting caught up after missing a few days.
He then reminded them of their next scheduled team outreach – to local school children on Thursday afternoon. “It's another opportunity to shine and to serve,” he said.
The team will also be honored in Friday morning’s chapel service.
Bostwick concluded with instructions about the off-season, which includes the arrival of new recruits and players seeking tryouts - starting on Monday, and the current team’s role in the process.
A Wednesday that began so somber, had finished at home, which surely looked “like land to sailors long at sea” as playwright Aeschylus once wrote.
Contact: Mark “Link” Warde, SAGU Sports Information Director, at email@example.com or at 469-658-2847.
Note: Follow on-line future articles about the Lions basketball team, including post-season honors and awards
Fans: Send photos from the team's return on Wednesday to firstname.lastname@example.org