By Will LeBlond
This winter, a group of 14 young men came from a place of adversity to captivate the Newfield community.
Even before the first ball was tipped on the 2016-17 high school basketball season, the Newfield Trojans boys basketball team was in some flux. Longtime coach Duane Barrett announced his resignation from the post just prior to the beginning of the season after 15 years, which left assistant coach Chris Bubble as the new head man.
In a release written by Barrett, he spoke fondly of the team that he was leaving.
“I view coaching at Newfield almost like breathing,” said Barrett. “It’s very tough, I enjoy it and I’ve always enjoyed working with those young men.”
He also summed up the quality of players and personalities on the team with the remark, “you are all very near and dear to my heart…I WILL be around so BOYS don’t mess this up or else.”
The demand of Barrett was not met with deaf ears from this season’s edition of Trojans and Bubble.
Under his tutelage, the Trojans turned the calendar to 2017 after a 6-2 start, which started to raise some eyebrows around the area and the state. Even in a short amount of time, Bubble, who also coaches the school’s varsity football team, got his team to feel good about their chances against top competition.
“He always says that he’ll take our five against anyone else’s five and play them anywhere,” said junior co-captain Quintel Clements. “He’s got a lot of confidence in us and that gives us a real big boost.”
The team opened up play in the new year ranked as the 16th best team in the Empire State in Class D as compiled by the New York State Sportswriters Association. With their expectations well outlined, the Trojans thrived.
With the leadership of captains Patrick King and Clements, Newfield went 7-2 to close out their regular season, giving them a 13-4 overall record. Their next test proved to have a long-term effect, as they fell to eventual Class C State Champion Moravia 55-49 in the IAC Small School Championship Game.
After the loss to the Blue Devils, the Trojans dug in for the Section IV tournament, which proved to be a grueling process.
While other teams in the area, like Class AA Ithaca, only have to play a couple of games to win a sectional tournament, the Trojans were one of 19 teams in the Class D Section IV Tournament. With the path to the New York state tournament drawn out, Newfield went to work.
The Trojans disposed of their first two opponents, Cherry Valley and Southern Cayuga, by a combined total of 59 points. After that, the team ventured to SUNY Oneonta for the sectional semifinal and final rounds as the second lowest seed remaining.
The moniker of “Road Warriors” started to take shape in Oneonta, as the team traveled more than double the amount of distance than all three other teams playing that weekend in early March. With a chip on their shoulder and a talented roster of resilient players, the Trojans trudged through the competition.
In the sectional semifinal against 2nd-seeded South Kortright, the Trojans disposed of the previously undefeated Rams 43-40 to advance to the final against top-seeded Delhi. With the mantle of underdog on their shoulders once again, Newfield took down the Bulldogs 53-50 to claim the Class D Section IV Championship.
Sectional trophy in hand, the Trojans were not satisfied – and the community took notice. A good number of friends, family and fans made the trip to Oneonta, but the amount of support the Trojans received from that point on was overwhelming.
Next up was a Tuesday afternoon state sub-regional game against Section I champion King High School played at Yorktown High School on March 7. With the game played about four hours away from Newfield, school officials gave students the option to travel to the game to support the team, and they responded.
With plenty of green already on the walls of the gym at Yorktown (its school’s colors are the same as the Trojans), the room became a sea of green on one side of the gym with Newfield supporters.
“It was a long bus ride, but it was worth it,” said Clements. “Our crowd definitely showed a lot of love to us and made it feel like a home game for us.”
With the loud cheers of the community behind them, the Trojans flew past King by a 53-36 total to complete their week-long odyssey around the state. After the victory, their travels were much shorter for the rest of their journey to the state championship, with the remainder of the postseason played at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton.
The first trip bore fruit for the Trojans on March 12. They went on a 22-5 run in the third quarter to blow past Section 9 Champion S.S. Seward 57-40 in the New York State Regional Championship Game to clinch a spot in the Class D Final Four.
With a rabid fan base behind them, the team prepped for a Friday morning contest on March 17. A practice preceded their return trip to Binghamton, but they were also met with a pep rally to send them off.
“I think it’s exciting for the kids and the community,” said Bubble. “For them to experience all of that is important, and it’s an experience that they won’t forget in their lifetimes.”
The first-year head basketball coach at Newfield spoke from experience when it came to his experience in the town, as he spoke prior to the team’s departure on that day.
“I’m so happy to be a part of this community,” said Bubble. “Having two children of my own in this community and teaching here, it’s a great community to be a part of and it’s a tribute to the kids that we put out on the floor.”
Backed by another sea of green, the Trojans engaged in a nail-biter with Section 10 Champion Harrisville. The teams traded blows throughout the contest and the regulation 32 minutes of play was not enough to decide the outcome.
Tied at 51, they went to an overtime session, which did not decide anything, except that their game would go down in history as one of the best in New York Final Four history. Deadlocked at 58, they went to a second 5-minute overtime period, which is when the Trojans finally pulled through for a 65-62 victory.
“This whole ride and grinding it out for five months, this just makes it all worth it and that all the hard work made it worth it,” said junior Stephen LaBarge after a 26-point performance that happened to come on his 17th birthday. “This is the final result and I’m happy to be here and I’m happy that I’m with my team.”
The victory put the Trojans in the New York State Championship Game for the first time since 1986, but the mindset stayed acutely focused on the task at hand for the entire weekend.
“We focused mentally and emotionally on not letting the moment get too big,” said Bubble on keeping his team grounded during big moments throughout the tournament.
Newfield’s next opponent proved to be their toughest in the postseason, with the top-ranked in New York State Class D Moriah Vikings standing in the way of the Trojans’ first state title in program history.
Just like the game with Harrisville from the day prior, the Section 7 Champion Vikings and the Trojans were neck-and-neck through most of the game. At the conclusion of the first quarter, Moriah held a one-point advantage. At halftime, Newfield was up by a point. After three quarters, Moriah regained the single point lead.
Eventually, the fourth quarter proved to be the difference, as the Vikings pulled away from Newfield and claimed a 61-52 victory. Though the final outcome of the game wasn’t what the Trojans hoped for, the entire season had a ripple effect in the community.
“Everywhere I went, whether it was downtown to go get something, there would always be someone saying ‘hey, good luck this weekend,’” said LaBarge after the final four weekend had concluded. “We had pep rallies at elementary schools for them to show support and it was really uplifting.”
For a few weeks in March, the team was not only buoyed by community support, but they gave the community a boost in return, and their story will be one that is remembered for a long time to come.
“No matter where we go, it feels like a home game,” said Bubble. “It just goes to show you that in a small town, people get really excited about things that rally the community. They also want to see a young group of men be successful, and that’s important to them.”