GARY | “Started from the bottom; now we’re here.”
It’s been a refrain at Bowman Academy since hip-hop artist Drake released the single “Started from the Bottom” with that repetitive refrain in early February.
On Saturday Bowman’s boys basketball team beat Linton-Stockton 86-73 at Banker Life Fieldhouse for the Class 2A state championship, and on Sunday the Drake single was song No. 2 at the Bowman victory celebration at the school, following Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
“After we got off to a rocky [2-7] start and then that song came out, we said, ‘Hey, this song kind of fits us,’” Bowman coach and athletic director Marvin Rea said. “Really, it did.”
The main lyrics of the song were on the Bowman fans’ T-shirts worn at state and again Sunday.
“The Bottom” was about more than a poor win-loss record against a tough schedule.
“You don’t know how cruel people were,” Rea said. “They said we were a bunch of misfits who can’t win games. They criticized the players, criticized the coaches. People were super-critical of us.”
Now they’re here.
Around 2 p.m. Sunday Engine 3 of the Gary Fire Department transported the team into the parking lot at 5th Avenue and Bigger Street. The parade had started around 1 p.m. at 53rd and Broadway. The procession was led by two police cars and included a pickup truck full of cheerleaders and a heated bus for staff and administrators. A caravan of fan vehicles followed.
The players wore their letter jackets and championship blue ribbons.
Senior Antonio Pipkin, who had 16 points in 11 minutes, including 12 points in the fourth quarter Saturday, held the trophy high atop the fire truck. The team stayed in Indianapolis Saturday night, and Pipkin did not let the trophy leave his side.
“I’m totally proud of him; he’s our leader,” Rea said. “He had every right to hold onto that trophy.
“It’s been a great ride, and this is icing on the cake. It’s a great feeling, especially with a new group of kids.”
Bowman, the 2010 Class A state champion, became the first team in state history to win state titles in multiple classes.
Once a small pep band greeted the players, the ceremony began with introductions and the presentation of an ornate spray-painted long-sleeve shirt to Rea. On front? “Started from the bottom” with player portraits from Sunday’s Times. On back? “Now we’re here” with action shots of the state championship game.
Rea thanked parents for their support during “the bottom.”
“I know there were a lot of nights your kids came home with tears in their eyes, but you trusted me,” Rea told the crowd.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson called it a great day and thanked the team on behalf of the city. She was not at the game but helped foster the parade celebration.
“This really demonstrates to our citizens and people in other places that there are good things happening in Gary,” Freeman-Wilson said.
“What impressed me about this team was not just the athletic ability but the character they displayed.”
Bowman was the runner-up last year to Park Tudor and All-American guard Yogi Ferrell. Returning players refused to take their runner-up rings from Rea until they won a state title this spring.
“It wasn’t unsportsmanlike,” Rea said. “They just had that determination.”
On Sunday Rea finally emptied his box of 2012 runner-up rings.
“Today was special,” Rea said. “The kids got to see everything I was telling them about how hard work pays off.”