A night for champions and some great people
January 11, 2008 - 6:45 PM
When I saw Lindsey Page several months ago, it was the first time I’d laid eyes on him in 16 years or more. I couldn’t believe how little he had changed. He still had the same slight but solid build, the same white hair and the same sly and shy smile. It’s a mischievous grin, one that’s always trying to find the joke no matter where he is.
On this day in late May, Lindsey and his wife Myra stopped by the Times-News to stay hello and welcome me back to the area after 15 years away. It was good to see them. You get to know coaches pretty well as a sports writer and in the two years I covered Bartlett Yancey High School’s eventual march to the only state basketball championship in school history I learned a lot. I watched him carry the weight of an entire county’s hopes and hoop dreams as well as his own career goals as far as the semifinals in 1987. I saw him worn down by it even more the next year as the loaded Buccaneers won, and won and won some more. They lost their fifth game that year, at Reidsville, but didn’t drop another.
That didn’t make life any easier for the longtime coach who was then 48, the age I am today.
“You know, in some ways it’s harder when you’re winning than it is when you’re losing,” he told me one night in Graham that year in reference to the almost limitless pressure that comes from high expectations — particularly justified high expectations. The calendar had just turned to 1988. There was still a long way to go before Bartlett Yancey could get to the Smith Center, where the state finals would be played in March. Most thought this might be Bartlett Yancey’s best chance to do it.
I was among them.
Fast forward to May 2007 and all of that is in the deep past. So deep in fact that Lindsey is telling me that there’s a reunion of the 1988 state championship team planned for sometime in the coming year. He doesn’t know when but he’ll let me know.
“We’d like for you to come,” he said.
I quickly accepted.
THE DRIVE to Caswell County last Saturday was my first in about 20 years — since I actually covered basketball for the Times-News. I don’t see many people I recognize right away at the Caswell County Civic Center. Then I glance and see Lindsey Page escort a man and his young family down a deserted hallway. It looks to be Corey Elliott and it is.
Lindsey, with a handheld video camera, lines up Corey Elliott, his wife and young son as if for a family portrait and prods him to speak.
“I’m Corey Elliott,” he says to the camera and introduces wife Kiva and son Corey Jr. He goes on to tell his former coach what’s he’s doing these days — he’s a systems engineer who lives in Whitsett — as if Lindsey doesn’t already know. The coach and players have remained in touch. Corey Elliott mentions the championship ring, but adds that his son likes to wear it, too.
“What do you remember about the state championship game?” Lindsey asks. It won’t be the first or last time he poses that question. As the night goes on, he records players, coaches, friends and even former sports writers.
“Don’t get away without me getting you on videotape,” Page tells me.
A couple of minutes later, a tall man with impossibly broad shoulders fills the civic center doorway. He’s immediately hugged by one, two, three people or more. His smile matches his physical stature and the quiet lobby gets noisier. Keith Claiborne was always the emotional one.
The last time I saw any of them they were just kids really. Now they’re adults with families, jobs and responsibilities. Dana Elliott, who was always the quiet leader, works these days as a clinic manager at the Bone Marrow Transplant Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He lives in Elon with his wife Sandra, daughter Jazmine and son Dana Jr. Jazmine, he says, is on the junior varsity women’s team at Williams. I told him his work sounded interesting.
“It’s a lot of sick people though. Lots of pain with the glory,” he said.
Clarence Moore almost didn’t make it to the reunion. The sergeant first class in the Army reserves just returned from Iraq in time to make the dinner. Louis Williamson, the point guard who was named MVP of the state title game against North Surry, ran into some rough patches after high school but regained control of his life. Today he operates a barber shop in Danville.
One by one they talked about that magical 31-1 season, which ended with an 82-68 win in Chapel Hill — a night anyone who wanted to could’ve taken over Caswell County because nearly every county resident was at the game. The team brought the entire community together as one. In many ways it marked the best of what sports can be.
The players know it now.
“When we went off to college and would come back people would stop us and say, ‘You guys don’t know what you did for this county,’” said Claiborne, who now works for UPS. “Lots of them were people I didn’t know, but they knew me. They told me we brought people together. I didn’t realize it then, and it didn’t mean much to me then but it means a lot to me now.”
It obviously still meant a lot to everybody at the civic center last week — all the players, cheerleaders and fans who took the time to revisit a great moment they all shared.
Myra Page put the night and the accomplishment 20 years ago in perspective though.
“You all turned out to be great people and that’s more important than any state championship,”
I would have to second that.
Madison Taylor is editor of the Times-News. Contact him by e-mail at
email@example.com or by calling 506-3030. Also read his blog at TheTimesNews.com