ASHLEY BEBENSEE, Kearney Center
SHELTON — Larry Brannagan jokes that Main Street in Shelton could close when the city’s basketball teams play state.
For the first time in Shelton Public School history, the women’s basketball team secured a state championship berth after defeating Cambridge 42-23 in the D1-5 District Finals.
And it didn’t stop there for school.
The Shelton boys’ basketball team earned their own berth in the state tournament by beating Medicine Valley 59-48 in the D2-5 District Finals. It’s the first time the boys have traveled to the state since 1995.
Brannagan, the owner of Larry’s Market in Shelton and a strong supporter of Shelton Public Schools, suspected a few years ago that these students might be the ones to bring the school to the state. The students were active in club basketball and successful in college.
“They’re good hard workers,” Brannagan said. “It helped them along the way.”
People also read…
Sherry Gangwish, owner of Gangwish Seed Farms and longtime Shelton resident, has a granddaughter who plays for Shelton and her son-in-law, Scott Willis, is the girls’ assistant coach. She was optimistic they would be the team to go all the way.
“We had high hopes. They took a long time in the summer. They put a lot of time out of school time. It’s a group of girls who have a common goal and a team goal. They work for each other, not necessarily for themselves,” Gangwish explained.
During the final minutes of the Girls’ District Finals, the entire crowd was on their feet waiting for time to run out.
“It was pretty surreal. It was just fun. It was a fun vibe. Everyone was excited,” Gangwish said.
The school began making tentative plans to hold a festive start for the girls before statehood, but they were cautiously optimistic that all might change if the boys claimed their own district title.
“It’s so amazing. The girls really hoped to succeed when the boys got the chance. … There are a few boy-girl siblings (on teams) that are going to go together,” said Erica Clark, mom of junior Halie Clark.
Bulldog pride exploded in the halls of the high school with posters and basketball decor adorning the walls and ceiling. Parents of the team members came to the school after hours on Wednesday to give the building a makeover.
Enthusiasm for the Shelton team even spread to other communities. Rise & Grind in Gibbon has created three signature drinks in honor of Bulldog basketball teams that will be an integral part of their menu.
“Shelton is six miles from Gibbon. They are very supportive of our business. Shelton and Gibbon have a strong connection to supporting youth sports,” said Scott Pickel, owner of Rise & Grind. The girls team members are frequent customers of the cafe, and one of their favorite drinks has been dubbed the Bulldog Latte.
Pickel won’t be able to make it to the state, but he hopes to live stream the games at Rise & Grind.
The school will begin sending teams out at 8 a.m. Monday with a cheering rally. At 1:30 p.m., students will take a walk through the halls of the school before being driven out of town by local law enforcement. Shelton Public Schools will not have classes Tuesday through Friday.
The Shelton Boys are ranked No. 8 in Class D2 and will play St. Mary’s at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Lincoln Southeast. The Shelton girls are seeded No. 4 in Class D1 and will face No. 5 Niobara/Verdigre at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday at Lincoln Southwest.
Clark said one of the teams’ mottos is “one game at a time” and they continue to have that mentality.
“I am extremely, extremely proud of the coaches and the kids. They’ve put in a ton of effort this year,” said Shelton operations manager Ryan Province. “If they go over there and keep playing like they did, I think they’ve got a good shot. We’ve got some talented kids.”