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March 21, 2014

Fan Frenzy: Hundreds gather to cheer on ’Canes

NEW CASTLE — It was billed as a pep rally for the New Castle High basketball team.

But the focus quickly expanded from the Red Hurricane — which plays tomorrow night in Hershey for the PIAA Class AAAA championship — to include a celebration of the community that has produced and embraced the undefeated, three-time WPIAL champs.

“I didn’t go to college to teach anywhere else but New Castle,” head coach Ralph Blundo told the hundreds of fans who gathered to give the ’Canes an enthusiastic send-off.

“I didn’t go to college to be a principal anywhere else but New Castle. And I never wanted to coach anywhere else but New Castle. Born and raised, from Day 1, it’s been in my soul, it’s been exactly what I wanted to do, and I’ve been blessed to do it in this community.”

Master of ceremonies Larry Kelly also painted the ’Canes and their supporters as being woven together in the tapestry of a tight-knit community.

““I’m New Castle guy. You’re New Castle people. That’s why you’re here tonight,” he said. “What I love most about New Castle people — we care.

“That’s why 1,500 people drove three hours to Chambersburg on Tuesday night. That’s why 100 people were waiting at the field house to congratulate our guys when they got back at 2:30 in the morning. And that’s why there’s probably 200 people here today in 39 degree weather to cheer on our warriors.”

Such support, he noted, isn’t found in such Pittsburgh area schools as Hampton or North Allegheny.

“They have an away game, they’ll get maybe some friends, maybe family — but not 1,500 driving three hours,” he said. “It’s not in their blood, it’s not part of their fiber. But it’s who we are.”

Still, it wouldn’t have been a pep rally without some praises being heaped totally upon the heads of the young men who will put their 30-0 record on the line tomorrow night against Philadelphia’s La Salle College High School (23-6).

“I know what you see out there — you see great basketball players, and they are,” Blundo said of his team members. “But for me to explain to you the intangible qualities that they have that make them special, I don’t know that I can do that right now. I don’t know that I can acutally explain what’s in their spirit, and what’s inside of them that makes them special.

“You’re going to go down to the state tournament this weekend, and you’re not going to see anyone who looks like us. They’re going to be 6-7, 6-8 and they’re going to be gigantic. They’re not going to look like us — but they’re also not going to have the heart that we have. That’s the difference.

“They might care about their teammates, but they’re not going to do it the way we do; the love for one another and the ability to do a bit more than what other teams do.”

Last night’s pep rally also included performances by the school’s band, cheerleaders and Candy Canes. It ended with Richie Mariacher and Cherokee Conti — leaders of student cheering section — teaching the crowd a new chant they plan to use tomorrow night in Hershey.

The simple theme:  “I believe that we will win.”

No one in Riverwalk Park would have disagreed.

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