HAMMOND | The hard-fought game had just ended. Within seconds most of the bleachers were empty. The mass of blue and gold moved toward Ronnye Beamon Jr.
It was like there was a magnetic pull inside of Bishop Noll's fieldhouse Feb. 25.
The Warriors had just ended the regular season undefeated with a 68-57 win over rival Andrean. But few cared about basketball on this night.
Hugs. Tears. Emphatic embraces. All of these encircled Beamon, whose father died two days before the game.
"They were my backbone," Beamon said of the Noll community after Wednesday's practice before the Class 2A state championship game Saturday against Indianapolis Park Tudor.
Beamon and his father dreamed collectively about playing for a state title inside of Conseco Fieldhouse. And with last Saturday's three-point win over Tipton, it happened.
Beamon said without the family support he got from his coaches, teammates and all others associated with the north Hammond parochial school, a state championship game never would've happened.
"They gave me everything I needed," Beamon said. "I thought just hearing it would be all I needed. But they did a lot more than that. They really pushed me through a very tough situation in my family's life."
Warriors coach Drew Trost and assistant Howard Ullrich rushed over to the Beamon's home the night his father passed. They stayed there until the wee hours giving love and a shoulder to lean on.
They told him they would cancel the Andrean game if the Beamons requested it. Basketball is not that important when real life knocks on the door.
Or pounds on the portal as it was in this case.
"We decided to play the game," Beamon said. "Because that is what my dad would've wanted."
Dinners were taken to the family. Love and money were dropped off by many. The junior guard was given rides to and from school. At Mr. Beamon's funeral the church was filled with the greater Noll alumni.
"I've said it a million times," Trost said. "Noll isn't just a school. It is a family."
Senior guard Adonis Filer got the same hand of acceptance when he arrived at the school last summer. He was asked to leave Mt. Carmel and was looking for a new school home.
He wasn't judged for any past issues. He became a teammate at the first workout in the hot gym.
Then, Noll went to a team camp at Indiana Wesleyan where a friend of Trost's, Greg Tonagel, is now the coach.
This is where Noll gelled. Playing in the big-school tournament, the Warriors lost to Carmel by four in the championship game. Filer was a difference maker.
The dream of Indy in March began to crystallize.
"The kids really bonded there," Ullrich said. "The kids accepted Adonis and they all became brothers. The chemistry with this group has been very good since Day 1.
"I don't think we're still playing without it."
Filer said his outgoing personality really helped in the classrooms, hallways and lunchroom at Noll. He said that just about everyone greeted him with a smile and a "hello."
Without Filer, many believe Noll would not be playing. His hoop skills are top notch, and he gave the program a Division I point guard.
"On Day 1 they put the ball in my hand," Filer said. "It didn't take long for everyone to welcome me."
Another piece of the puzzle has been Noll's "Sixth Man," a loud and crazy group that was big in November and has gotten even larger as the postseason progressed.
Many Noll alumni have jumped on the bandwagon, too. Noll's 2,000 tickets for Saturday's final sold out on Thursday.
Each of the eight schools playing in Saturday's four state finals got an allotment from the IHSAA for tickets. Noll took the maximum.
There will be tickets on sale at Conseco for the morning session.
"It was great going in there," sophomore Milos Kostic said of the Warriors' Tuesday practice at Conseco. "But it will be even better when our fans get in there. The Sixth Man. They're great.
"We love playing with them there. We're a family."
Today the Warriors' will leave for Indianapolis at noon. Before they board the bus, the school plans on having a big sendoff. The students will be let out of their classrooms and will line the hallway.
Then, the players and coaching staff will walk between their fans as they embark on setting history.
"Those are the kind of things this school does," Trost said. "I'll say it again. We're a family. We support each other. We love each other. And we want to go down there together and try to win a state championship."