Three teams, three historic seasons
Memories flooded back to Bryant Farrence as he looked around the Giant Center during Spring Grove's district playoff game against Central York.
The captain of the 1971 Rockets boys' basketball team hadn't been back to see Spring Grove since graduating, but this year's team brought him back. He remembered the pride and enthusiasm surrounding the '71 team, which won the school's last county championship before this year, as he watched a similar atmosphere: a rabid student section and invested fans encompass that playoff game in Hershey.
The 2015-16 school year provided those memories and emotions for three alumni bases in the Hanover area that got to follow along as their programs ended long droughts. Before the Spring Grove boys' basketball team broke its 45-year county championship drought during the winter, the Hanover football team started a season 8-0 for the first time since 1964 and won a division title for the first time since 1996. In the spring, the Fairfield baseball team set a program record with 10 regular season wins, then won a playoff game for the first time in the program's 62-year history.
All three teams stirred new energy into fan bases that have waited decades for that level of success.
Farrence drove up from Danville - more than two hours from Spring Grove - to support the Rockets, and the team's success led him to reconnect with former teammates and coaches he hadn't seen in many years. This year's team reminded him of the '71 team: led by star players such as Gary Shive in 1971 and Eli Brooks in 2016, with experienced supporting casts and business-like attitudes.
Farrence, Shive and five former teammates even attended the current team's end-of-year banquet to share stories, share advice and reminisce.
“We were just so proud that it was happening again and just wanted to show our support to the boys," Farrence said. "The message we as a team wanted to give the boys was, ‘this is the start of things to come. If you take what you did this past year and roll it into your future endeavors, you’re going to continue to have success.' Our team was able to do that.”
Brandon Stoneburg's top memory from the 2015-16 sports season was the season-long battles that unfolded between Central York and Spring Grove on the high school hardwood.
Unlike Spring Grove, which entered the year expecting to compete for the county title behind the star guard Brooks and an experienced supporting cast, few outside the Hanover football locker room expected more than a few wins from the Nighthawks. They hadn't won more than two games since 2010, but started the year with two blowout victories before grinding out wins over Eastern York and Bermudian Springs in weeks 3 and 4, respectively.
“It was just a complete turnaround," said 1959 Hanover graduate Charles Bell, who played for some of the great Nighthawks' teams of the '50s. "The people were excited, the fans were excited. This team went above and beyond many of the great teams we've ever had."
In the case of Fairfield baseball, it's safe to say this was the best team in program history. The Green Knights had little history to speak of with no double-digit win seasons, no district playoffs wins and only a handful of district playoff appearances before this year. But as the 2016 squad continued to win games into May, the community started to take notice.
Coach John Ridge received texts from several players on the day Fairfield went on the road and held off York Catholic by a 3-2 score in the first round of the District 3 playoffs.
“It was awesome," 2005 Fairfield graduate Richie Harbaugh, a former player, said of finding out the Green Knights had won. "You feel nothing but joy for them and excitement that they did something that hadn’t been done. With Fairfield being such a small town, there’s a lot of pride that goes along with its sports teams that are successful.”
Although the 2015-16 school year is now history, these three teams have left their alumni and communities with an appetite for more.
Harbaugh feels excited to see Fairfield baseball use last season as motivation to strive for more.
Farrance sees a promising youth program developing at Spring Grove and feels confident the school district won't have to wait another 45 years for the next county title.
In Hanover, expectations for next fall - just a few months away - are already high.
“If I can make it next fall, I’ll be there every game," Bell said. "I hear good things happening with the leaders involved, and people are really excited about the program. I’m sure things are gonna go on well.”
Stellar seasons at a glance
A look at three teams that had historic seasons out of Hanover in 2015-16:
After winning a total of four games the past four seasons, the Nighthawks re-energized the fan base by starting the season 8-0 for the first time since 1964. Led by senior quarterback Kyle Krout, Hanover went on to split the YAIAA Division III title with Biglerville, the first division title for the orange and black since 1996.
Spring Grove boys' basketball
The Rockets won the YAIAA tournament title, capturing the program's first county championship since 1971. Led by junior guard Eli Brooks, Spring Grove went on to place third in District 3 and qualify for the PIAA Class AAAA state championships.
The Green Knights' accomplished two feats that had never been done in the 62-year history of the program: They won a program-record 10 regular season games, then won a district playoff for the first time by beating division rival York Catholic, 3-2, in the first round of the playoffs.