By MICHAEL BURWELL
PANDORA — There’s a buzz and excitement level in Pandora and Gilboa that has rarely been felt by those who live in the Putnam County villages.
Mention the 2017-18 Pandora-Gilboa boys basketball team and its success this season, and residents instantly have a smile on their faces.
“It’s very exciting, just to see the community come together,” said Rick Morrison, a 1983 P-G grad and the Pandora village administrator. “Kind of just a small little town out in the middle of a bunch of fields and it’s just pretty awesome just to see how many people (support them).
“And even from other communities, just the support from other communities and stuff. Putnam County is just a really knitted community. With Ottoville (girls basketball) making it so close and Ottawa-Glandorf, I think all the communities kind of support each other.”
It’s been a season unlike any other for P-G (26-1). For the first time in school history, the Rockets will play in the OHSAA state tournament as they will take on Marion Local (23-4) in a Division IV state semifinal at 2 p.m. Thursday at Value City Arena in Columbus.
P-G was the ninth and final school in the county to earn a trip to the boys state basketball tournament.
“It was something that we thought would never happen,” said Ted Sigler, a 1979 P-G grad and owner of Ted’s Market in Pandora. “You’re in Putnam County, basketball is the thing. You’ve got all these other schools that don’t have football and all they do is practice basketball. So something like this really brought great hype to the whole town.”
The support for the team jumps out throughout the two communities. Nearly every business in Pandora has signs in the front windows supporting the Rockets, and several houses in town on Route 12 have signs as well.
Even the infamous bull along U.S. Route 224 in Gilboa, a 16-foot-tall, 1,500-pound fiberglass statue, had red, gray and white streamers hanging from it.
Passersby in the two villages are more likely to drive by a streamer strapped to a telephone pole than cars coming from the other direction.
“That’s the good thing about a small town: small-town support,” said Nathan Sprunger, owner of Sprunger Insurance in Pandora. “It’s a big deal. It has brought the town together, Pandora and Gilboa, coaches, players, cheerleaders. It’s quite the story.”
Added Carol Williams, a pharmacy technician at Riley Creek Pharmacy in Pandora: “They’ve been really fun to watch. It’s phenomenal, they have a lot of support.”
The sea of red that swarmed half of Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center in P-G’s 70-58 Division IV regional final win over Convoy Crestview on Friday night spoke volumes in regards to the support of the team.
“We had a substitute today (Friday) at school from one of the area schools,” P-G coach Joe Braidic said after Friday’s win, “and he came up to me after school and he said ‘the whole county’s rooting for you.’ So that was a nice feeling because sometimes, you kind of think you’re on an island out there.
“Let’s face it, through the years, Pandora hasn’t been known for a basketball school. These guys here, they didn’t let that deter them.”
Pandora has a population of around 1,150, while Gilboa has a little less than 200 people, according to the 2010 census. But in order to fill up half of the Stroh Center, it takes more people than that.
“It shows that our county and surrounding area’s got our backs through it,” P-G senior forward Drew Johnson said. “A lot of us are rivals, but at the same time, it’s just another game and usually when there’s a team around your area, you’re going to go support them and that’s just awesome of them to do that for us.”
Players, coaches and those from schools in the Blanchard Valley Conference and Putnam County League, the two conferences that P-G competes in, took to social media to show their appreciation of P-G’s state tournament berth as well.
Red, gray and white streamers stretch all the way to Findlay on telephone poles on Route 12. There is also a “Go P-G Rockets” sign just outside of Benton Ridge on eastbound Route 12.
When the Rockets returned from Friday’s regional win, they were escorted by fire and police departments through Gilboa and Pandora. Stinky’s Country Well in Gilboa even had a fireworks display when the team arrived, and toilet paper sales were booming at Ted’s Market.
“I ordered extra in because of it,” Sigler said.
Added Morrison: “The sale of toilet paper for Ted’s has probably helped move his (business) up a little bit. But yeah they decorated the bus coming into town, the traffic lights and stuff. It’s just something we haven’t really ever seen before in town here.
“Columbus Grove has experienced it with their big state win a few years back, Ottawa-Glandorf has gotten to do this and Kalida’s been there many times. But it’s just an unreal thing.”
For Sigler, who is also a bus driver for the school, listening to the younger kids talk about the team and seeing the players that he’s known for years succeed this year has been satisfying.
“The (young) kids, that’s all you here about talking,” Sigler said. “They’re all excited. This is just something that’s got the whole school and whole community involved.
“I’ve known all these boys since they grew up, most of them have been in the gym since they were little. I’ve picked up over half of them on my bus, so I’ve known them ever since. Little Eli (Phillips) used to stand right behind me and talk to me the whole way to school, look how big he is now.”
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By MICHAEL BURWELL