WHEELING Like I'm sure it did you, West Liberty's loss Thursday night hit me like a ton of bricks. That feeling of anguish and complete despair, accompanied by the pit in your stomach that lets you know that something just isn't right in the universe.
My handy-dandy sports editor's manual happens to be, well, handy, and it says right here in bold letters: There is to be no cheering in the press box.
I've let you down in that regard, folks, although this particular game was viewed through the TV and not in an actual arena.
But West Liberty's run through the West Virginia Conference, Atlantic Region and then on to the Final Four captivated me just the same as it probably did you. I mean, the irony of the whole situation is that the very same group of kids that nobody else seemed to want, we never wanted to see leave.
Alas, seniors Corey Pelle, John Wolosinczuk, Barry Shetzer and Jordan Fortney have played their last game in Hilltoppers uniforms. They're hurting right now, and that's fine. They quite likely feel like they've let us down, which of course, couldn't be farther from the truth. It's our job to repay this group by picking it up, much the same as it did for us.
It's impossible to quantify what West Liberty has done for the Ohio Valley. Remember, this isn't the 1920s and there aren't booming businesses, big stars stopping by or world-renowned products leaving our city for various parts of the world. This is little, old Wheeling, W.Va., and we're back on the map nationally thanks in no small part to the work of these four guys.
They even took on our personality, thumbing their collective nose at those skeptics who said they didn't look like much, talked funny, and would never amount to anything on the basketball court. Look who's laughing now, America.
These boys laced those low-cut sneakers for one reason, and one reason only: to win a championship. They captured a pair, but a third was not meant to be. So instead of telling them how good of a season they had - trust me when I tell you the boys don't want to hear that right now - let's pick them up by reminding them exactly what they mean to us.
It's funny I should write that last part, because it took me a long time to figure it out, myself.
When these four stepped into our town as wide-eyed freshmen, you have to admit it would have been tough to pick any of them out of a lineup. But they'll be rock stars for all of eternity around here. We will forever remember little things like the beards of Wolosinczuk and Shetzer, the always-visible white mouthpiece of Fortney, and the tattoo across the back of Pelle's arm.
When parents send their children off to college, this is what they hope for. No, not all the records, the trophies, the titles or the adulation. They dream that the community they've selected to spend four or five years in their lives will not only accept them, but in some ways adopt them. Well, these guys are ours - forever - and I hope they feel the same.
Each of the four has his own hometown, but it's nice to think that even if by Freudian slip, when asked where they're from the response will be 'Wheeling.'
As long as Jim Crutchfield is the coach, there will continue to be great teams at West Liberty. But the realization that there will never be another 2010-2011 Hilltoppers team is probably what makes it hurt, even for a guy whose manual says it's not supposed to.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net