With less than 20 seconds left, Tuesday’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game was still in doubt. O’Connell held a three-point lead and its fans, crowded just feet from the baseline, were ready to celebrate. A few hopeful St. John’s fans readied themselves as well.
O’Connell held on to win, 58-53.
“When I looked up and saw our players jumping up and down and the fans rushing on to the court, it was just something special,” O’Connell Coach Joe Wootten said.
After the buzzer sounded, hundreds of students clad head to toe in blue ran onto the court at American University’s Bender Arena, surrounding the Knights. “At that point it becomes about that name across your chest,” Wootten said. “It’s about school pride and community. That’s what is important.”
Wootten played on DeMatha teams that won the WCAC championship his junior and senior years. But the format was different in the early ’90s and there was no championship game, so he never experienced such a celebration. As a coach, Wootten has seen it happen a few times, both on the winning and losing side.
“At a championship game, it’s all right when students rush the court,” he said. “It’s really part of the game. They were part of the game.”
Before the game was over, some of O’Connell junior Melo Trimble’s friends warned him: If the Knights won, they were going to tackle him. Within seconds, Trimble was surrounded by a sea of blue and, true to their word, Trimble’s friends had him on the ground as everyone celebrated the win.
“It’s funny, I was looking forward to getting tackled because it’s exciting,” Trimble said. “I’ve never been on the court when fans rush the court.”
Trimble, who has committed to play for the University of Maryland, was at Comcast Center last month when the Terrapins upset Duke. “I got kind of jealous,” Trimble said. “For a big game like that — not even a championship game — for the fans to come on the court? I wanted to be in a game like that too.”
At the start of the WCAC title game, Trimble looked into the stands. He had never seen so many O’Connell students, staff, parents and alumni at one of his games. He felt honored. “To win a championship, we need all the support we can get,” he said.
That’s just what they got.
“O’Connell hasn’t won a championship since 2004,” said Trimble, “so when everyone ran on the court, it felt good.”