‘What a ride’
RTR community celebrates Class A championship
TYLER — They had just won a state championship, and the members of the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights basketball team found three times the celebration waiting for them when they arrived home.
A procession of fire trucks and ambulances led the Knights’ bus through the city of Russell, then Ruthton and Tyler, before pulling up outside RTR School.
A crowd of cheering fans welcomed the boys into the RTR gymnasium.
“I just want to congratulate all you players. What a ride – we loved it,” said RTR Superintendent David Marlette.
RTR defeated New Life Academy to win the Class A state basketball title on Saturday morning. Community members said the championship game had a nerve-wracking second half, as the Knights’ lead over the New Life Academy Eagles narrowed to just three points. However, RTR stayed on top, winning the championship 59-49.
Senior Aiden Wichmann said winning the championship was an emotional finish for the season.
“I wouldn’t change this for the world, you know. I love all these guys. I’ve been playing with the eight seniors since fourth grade,” Wichmann said.
“It’s kind of emotional, leaving high school basketball for the last time,” he said. But it had been a good experience.
In addition to celebrating the state championship, the team also recognized Drew Werkman, who scored his 1,000th career point during the state tournament. Werkman was presented with the game ball from RTR’s Section 3A win against Dawson-Boyd.
“You guys are a special group,” head coach Daren Gravley told the team Saturday. “It’s been an honor and privilege to coach you guys for the last four years. I appreciate your dedication. I thank you for your commitment, and you guys, the thing that makes me most proud is the way that you became mentally tough. Nothing fazed you guys. Nothing stood in your way.”
The Knights had a lot of community support the whole way through the state tournament. While many fans traveled to Minneapolis to support the team, others watched along on TV, or caught one of the Knights’ earlier tournament games livestreamed in the RTR school auditorium, community members said Saturday.
At the welcome celebration, speakers said RTR’s players and student fans made a good impression on tournament officials and spectators. RTR Athletic Director Darren Baartman said over the past couple of days, friends had reached out to him about the Knights’ trip to the state tournament.
“One in particular texted me, and he’s an old-school guy. He loves old-school basketball. He watches us, and he says this: ‘RTR plays basketball the right way,'” Baartman said.
“Everybody was talking about what great young men we have, and that’s something,” Marlette said.
“We really hate to see our seniors leave. You seniors have been outstanding,” Marlette said. When seniors show leadership and work hard in class and activities, it sets the tone for the whole school, he said. “We’re having a great year because of those seniors.”