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Ironton seniors leave legacy

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- When the Ironton High School boys basketball team lost Thursday to Ottawa-Glandorf, 61-60 in overtime, in the Ohio Division III semifinals, a legacy walked off the court for the final time together.

The seven seniors for the Fighting Tigers comprised the winningest four-year class in Ironton boys basketball history.

Three regional final appearances and this year's trip to the Final Four highlighted the team's accomplishments, but what made them special went beyond wins and losses head coach Mark LaFon said.

"The game itself, it doesn't define who they are," LaFon said. "Everyone has their stories when they come here and sit at this table. My personal story with them is seeing them go from freshmen. ...

"They've grown up in character, in class and I know they are going to do real good things out there in the world. That's really what this high school sports is all about, growing up from boys to young men."

Senior Trey Fletcher said his biggest memory of the trip to Columbus will not be his 27-point, 13-rebound performance and hitting 11-of-15 shots from the floor.

It's way bigger than that for the 6-foot-6 forward.

"It's just playing with the guys you grew up with and playing our last game together," Fletcher said. "We hang around each other a lot and we know each other very well. That continues on the court for us."

The character LaFon spoke of was on full display during Thursday's post-game press conference when Zac Carter and Fletcher -- the team's captains -- entered the media interview room.

They were dejected, they were hurt and they were stunned.

Yet the teenagers stared the adversity in the face and answered several questions about what happened in the final minute after Ironton had led by six with 50 seconds left.

LaFon said he always refers to the group as "my boys," but after the character and growth they've shown, he's going to have to change the way he addresses them in the future.

"I guess now, I'm going to have to start calling them young men instead of my boys," LaFon said.

For LaFon, the biggest changes have come off the court.

The Class of 2013 varsity players have a cumulative 3.4 grade point average, which is an increase from when they were freshmen.

Their hard work did not just resonate within the team, however.

It helped transform the school, LaFon said.

The school that has been known for decades for its football success has turned into a basketball power.

More importantly, the success of this four-year class resonated throughout a community that embraced the change to the love for basketball -- as was evidenced by the large Ironton contingent among the 10,000-plus at the Schottenstein Center on Thursday.

"I've watched them change the whole attitude and culture in our school, in our athletic department and those things," LaFon said. "To me, that's what defines the group overall."

In 20 years, the group will be able to speak about their fantastic run on the basketball court and they'll all undoubtedly still be friends linked by a bond built through athletics.

And their impact will still be felt at Ironton.

In all likelihood, they will still be the winningest four-year class in Ironton history and will have set the bar for what Fighting Tiger teams strive for in the future.

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