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After a tumultuous 2023, Charlottesville High's basketball teams are restoring Black Knight pride

Nine days before the start of the Charlottesville High School boys and girls basketball teams’ seasons, their facilities were shut down.

As a safety precaution after a series of schoolwide brawls broke out on grounds in November — prompting teachers to call out of work and demand administrators address the violence — CHS canceled the two days of school leading up to Thanksgiving break.

“Morale was a little bit low,” Charlottesville athletic director Andy Jones said.

“A lot of stuff was up in the air,” Black Knights girls basketball head coach Jim Daly said. “It was a lot of questions of ‘What happens next?’”

Much of the school division’s message to the community emphasized that the majority of students were making it to class, were working hard and were not at fault. “There’s great kids here every day,” Daly said. “Yes, some weren’t doing the right thing, but there were 1,200 kids coming here doing the right thing every day. So, I think that became the focus.”

Amid the troubles, the Black Knights’ basketball teams intended to provide an example for their peers, for their community, for their city.

Rayquel Allen, a senior guard on the CHS girls team, echoed that sentiment after Charlottesville won its season opener against Waynesboro on Nov. 29 in what was the school’s first athletic event since students and faculty were able to return.

“Each and every girl on the team knows what it means to be a Black Knight,” Allen said following the victory. “And we showcase that in the classrooms and on the court.”

Both basketball teams carried that message onto the court and provided the CHS community something to rally around during the 2023-24 season, including a regional championship for each team. It’s about more than the wins; the team’s positive energy has been contagious.

“The success has been good, but I think the folks coming into our games and experiencing these environments at our basketball games have been pretty incredible this year,” Jones said. “Winning helps, but also the environment that these kids have created has helped a lot as well.”

Charlottesville High School received a boost of morale on Dec. 8, when the 2001 Black Knights girls basketball team received its long-awaited championship rings. Even prior to the presentation, the CHS community had some idea it would buoy spirits at the school.

“I think it’s much-needed,” Jessica Carter, a 2001 CHS alumna, said a week before the ceremony. “It demonstrates unity, it demonstrates community, it demonstrates how resilient we have been.”

“When we got to bring in this amazing group of adults that went here, and they brought their families in, it kind of brought people back into the schools,” Jones added. “A lot of people read about Charlottesville, and there’s a lot of bias about Charlottesville out there, but when they come within these walls, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is pretty awesome.’”

The ring presentation preceded the first of three regular season doubleheaders for boys and girls at the school, where both varsity teams would play the same Albemarle County opponent back to back.

Charlottesville, Monticello, Albemarle and Western Albemarle all hosted against each other at different points of the year, but things were always different when games were played at CHS.

“You can feel the energy when you walk into Charlottesville High School’s gym for a basketball game, I think more than any other gym in the area,” Jones said.

That energy was only amplified in the postseason. Both the boys and girls were the highest-ranked teams in the region, which allowed for more matinée action. The doubleheaders for their respective regional finals were sold out, and when they played in the state quarterfinal, they had to move to a bigger gym to fit the crowds coming to the games.

“The energy the students have brought to each and every game this year, close or far — it’s immaculate,” Allen said after the Region 4D Championship game. “I wouldn’t rather have any other student section.”

Coaches and administrators agreed.

“Our student body is really super — I love them,” CHS boys basketball head coach Mitch Minor said. “I’m so proud of our student body and the type of support we get from them. I can’t say enough about them. They’re here each and every night.”

“I think any time, [with] kids [in] any sport, the key to their success is having great support — both students’ support and the community support, and I think we’ve had both,” added Charlottesville interim Principal Kenny Leatherwood, a longtime Charlottesville City Schools worker who was appointed to the post after the sudden resignation of Rashaad Pitt last year.

While the school rallied around its teams, the inverse has also been true, he said.

“It’s a very exciting time for those players, for the students and for the fans,” Leatherwood said. “It gives us all something to all collectively support.”

The Black Knights have also attracted a following outside of the halls of CHS. Many in Charlottesville — alumni, friends and neighbors but also supportive community members with no affiliation with the school whatsoever — started showing up at the school, and later games, to support students after CHS closed for days during a “reset” in November after the violence broke out.

“After the reset, we had many, many community members, many former graduates that came to support our school in the transition, and that support has also transformed into support for these teams,” Leatherwood said.

It’s important for the community to know, said Daly, the Black Knights are not an exception, they are a representation of their school.

“I’m really proud of these girls and who they are,” Daly said. “They do all the right things and the small things day by day, so I’m hoping they’re reflecting all the great kids who do all the right things here at CHS.”

The teams have been a reminder of the unity the school is capable of, and what it can strive for moving forward.

“We’re all as one, as far as I’m concerned,” Minor said. “Our basketball team, the Charlottesville school and as well as the community — it’s all of us.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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