BY DARREN REESE
The year was 1990. The price of gas was $1.34 a gallon. Television shows Seinfeld and The Simpsons were making their debuts. East and West Germany were reuniting. A thing called the World Wide Web was in its infant stages.
In Afton, a player by the name of Sam Broyles was a junior for the Chuckey-Doak basketball team. He helped the Black Knights to a district championship that season.
The more things change, the more some things stay the same.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and Broyles was once again leading the Chuckey-Doak boys’ basketball team to a championship – only this time it was as head coach.
In between 1990 and 2013, the Black Knights won zero district crowns. Maybe that's why Broyles was overwhelmed with emotion from the time the final whistle sounded until he climbed the ladder to cut down the net at Claiborne High School.
“It’s just hard to believe,” Broyles said, still trying to catch his breath after hugging just about every person in the gym wearing black and gold.
“Twenty-three years, are you kidding me? This is something these guys are going to remember for the rest of their lives. They are a part of Chuckey-Doak history tonight.”
Broyles, in fact, played during one of the most successful periods in Chuckey-Doak basketball history, as the program made it to four straight district tournament championship games during his career.
That 1990 team went on to lose in the regional tournament and finished with a 24-7 record. Current Chuckey-Doak assistant coach John House was also on that squad.
The next season – Broyles senior year – was even more successful, as the Black Knights made it all the way to the state tournament. However, in the process, the 1990-91 team lost in both the district and region championship games.
That’s something Broyles will never forget. It’s one of the reasons he said Tuesday night’s title should be something his players always cherish.
“I told them before the game, ‘You will never forget this night’,” Broyles said. “We (played in the district championship game) all four years I was here. And we lost my senior year. It was heartbreaking.”
“For the seniors on this team, Garrett Johnson and Cory Swinney, they did something that I can’t say I did, they won a district championship their senior year. It’s a special thing.”
Swinney and Johnson have been the catalysts for the Chuckey-Doak turnaround the past couple of seasons.
There have been a lot of growing pains along the way. Two years ago, when the duo were sophomores, Chuckey-Doak won just three games the entire season.
A year ago, the Black Knights finished 7-20 overall and 2-10 in the district.
“The past couple of years have been a struggle,” Swinney said. “That makes this feel even better. As a team, we set goals at the start of the year and now we’ve accomplished them.”
“It feels good to be able to do this with coach Broyles as our coach. He has believed in us through this whole thing, and we wanted to win it for him.”
According to Broyles, Tuesday’s championship was the culmination of a process that began prior to this year.
“The biggest thing for us was learning how to win,” the coach explained. “Last season, our junior varsity went 16-3. They were learning how to win.”
“At the same time, we had a lot of those sophomores on the varsity team. The last 10-15 games of the season, we were competitive, but still learning how to win. Coming into this season, we knew they were ready. They showed you that now they know how to win. There was a lot of heart out on that court tonight.”
Johnson said it all goes back to a motto that assistant coach Kyle Donahue put before the team at the start of the season – “Finish Strong”.
“We’ve lived by that this season,” Johnson explained. “We’ve had some rough times, but we’ve always had our sights set on this night.”
The Black Knights had a stretch around the holidays where they lost six out of ten games, but they have rebounded to win 10 of their last 12.
Broyles attributes that to the continual maturation process of his squad. Johnson would agree.
“Us seniors had to step up and lead this team this year, and I think the coaches have helped us out with that a lot,” Johnson explained. “Coach Donahue has helped me and Cory stay more focused and keep our tempers in check.”
Chuckey-Doak started the season with a series of goals: win 15 games, qualify for the region tournament, and win district.
Now that there is a check mark beside all three of those, the Black Knights want to accomplish more.
“As good as this feels, this group has a chance to do even bigger things,” Broyles said. “But right now, we just want to enjoy this moment."