Every time Ken Brown steps onto the basketball court at Fairfield High School, he immediately recalls the packed gymnasiums.
He hears the fans' cheers and remembers a team, one with little expectations that overcame the odds for one of the most magical seasons in the history of Hanover-area high school basketball.
And now he is trying to do it again with the Fairfield girls' basketball team.
It was the 2000-2001 season, and Brown was in his fifth year as head coach of the Fairfield boys. They were coming off an 8-14 season yet had the majority of their team returning.
"The kids thought we were nuts because, early in the season we told them that we were going to go to the state playoffs, and they had never been before," Brown recalled.
Despite finishing the regular season 12-12, Fairfield put together a boys' tournament run for the ages.
It finished fourth in the District 3 tournament, which earned the Green Knights a trip to the state playoffs, just as the coaching staff had predicted.
It was a run that cultivated a community reminiscent of the movie, "Hoosiers." When the Knights played in the districts and at states, Fairfield became a ghost town.
"We had a really nice group of kids that had come all the way through the school system," Brown said. "The community knew the kids, and the kids knew the community. They had never had anything like that in any sport. After years of getting beat up, this gave them something to be proud of. They would be at the school waiting for us after games."
"Coming home from district and state games, they ran parades through town and hung banners all over every house," former Green Knight player Andrew Winebrenner recalled. "There were pep rallies. We were filling up gyms that were three times the size of ours. I think it really brought the community together a lot."
The Green Knights' run concluded with a state championship matchup against Kennedy Christian. The Knights went on to lose that game, 87-45.
While the loss was a disappointment, the journey is one that will never be forgotten.
The star player that year was Winebrenner, then a junior who had 25 points and 10 rebounds in the state championship loss. Winebrenner averaged 20 points that season and concluded his career as the Fairfield and Hanover area boys' all-time leading scorer with 1,929 points.
"I think the turning point of the season was when we defeated Waynesboro," Winebrenner said. "They had two kids that were 6-7 and we didn't have a guy over 6-foot-1. We beat them, 37-35, and that kind of proved that we could play."
The game was extra special because, for 16 years, Brown has been a teacher at Waynesboro and has also served as a coach there.
A memory such as Tommy Dowd's five 3-pointers against Camp Hill at Hersheypark Arena or the multiple times family, friends and fans rushed the court after big wins, made Brown know then, after he left the program several years later, that he would one day be back.
That day has come, weeks before the start of this winter season.
Brown, who is an assistant coach of the Fairfield football team, was approached about the possibility of coaching the girls' basketball program. During his hiatus from coaching, he suffered a cancer scare, watched his son play high school basketball and took some much-needed time off to rejuvenate himself.
Now, he is ready and excited to be back, again with the community where he helped create so many exciting memories.
This time, however, it will be the girls' program that he wants to lead to states.
The journey will not be easy. Since 1982, the girls' team has had four winning seasons. In the past six years, they have had five head coaches.
Add that he accepted the position just two weeks before practice began, and one can see the many obstacles that will have to be overcome.
"Some of those obstacles are overcome when you have a trophy in the trophy case," Brown said. "That earns you some respect. The kids know you have been there. I think it is too much to ask for a total turnaround. We aren't really deep, and that is important. Two weeks from now, I might tell you that the varsity girls are showing that, as sophomores, they can contribute."
"The first thing is to build some pride in the programs."
While the girls are still in the process of learning Brown's terminology for the 2012-13 season, he understands this is not a one-year fix.
"I am not just here for one year," Brown said. "I am here for the long haul. We are trying to put a program together from seventh grade to 12th grade. It will take a while, but we want to do something like what they have done with the soccer program."
Under girls' soccer coach Jacquelyn Suchanek, that Fairfield program posted a 29-7-1 record over the past two seasons, including a 12-0 YAIAA Division III record this fall.
Meanwhile, the cupboard is not bare for Brown. Three of the top five scorers return from a team that went 5-15 last year in Erin Donaldson (four points per game), Kelly Quealy (7.7 points per game) and Lexy Junker (4.7 points per game).
"We are more guard-oriented this year," Brown said. "Lots of cuts, floor looks. We want to run, create some defensive pressure and create points. We have a couple of young girls that will be all right, but they don't have much experience, so we will see how they handle it."
Despite their 5-15 record, Fairfield lost five games by 10 points or fewer. The Green Knights did however, endure seven games in which they allowed more than 60 points.
"We want to be a great defensive team, and that is basically where it starts," Brown said. "That is goal one. We need to win games we are supposed to win, and we have to get our kids to give us a chance in the other games."
The first time he walked back into the gym, he felt as though he had just practiced there the preceding day. If he needed any more familiarity, he does not need to look any further than the boys' team, for which Winebrenner is the head coach.
No one knows Brown's coaching style better than Winebrenner.
"He was a great coach," Winebrenner said. "He was one of those coaches that had you work hard in practice. He pushed to get the most out of you. He was still a player-friendly coach. You knew it wasn't personal if he had to yell at you. He was a very likeable guy. He got the most out of us."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 717-637-3736, extension 143. Twitter: @michaelrubin6.
A look around the YAIAA