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Abington’s Maroon Madness ushers in basketball season

The Abington girls basketball team poses with their District 1 championship banner at Abington High School's Maroon Madness night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

ABINGTON >> Lucas Monroe doesn’t get tired during home basketball games.

The Abington junior said he can’t, not when the house is packed, the crowd is making noise and the ‘Bing is rocking. It’s no surprise that over the last half-decade, as the Galloping Ghosts boys’ and girls’ basketball teams cemented themselves as annual contenders in District I, Abington built a real home floor advantage.

With the season a week away, the Ghosts welcomed their fans in Friday to recognize last season’s success and turn attention to this year’s promise.

“We’re both coming off districts championships, we did really well last season and got pretty popular so now people are excited to see us play,” Monroe said. “It’s adding a lot of hype. People are pretty excited about it, they’re looking forward to meeting the players and we’ve have a lot of people asking us about it.”

Abington hosted its inaugural Maroon Madness on Friday, allowing the community a chance to celebrate the District 1-6A titles won by both the boys and girls programs last year and the players a chance to let loose a bit to break up the preseason grind. The Ghosts unveiled the pair of district title banners, as well as an updated 1,000-point scorer list.

Players from both teams took on a faculty squad, a 3-point contest pitted teacher against student, player against coach and sibling against sibling and a couple of the boys’ high fliers tried to out-dunk each other.

It didn’t have the intensity of an SOL National game or a district playoff game, but the Ghosts’ fans still came out, which didn’t surprise the players at all.

“It adds a lot of excitement and a lot of enthusiasm,” girls’ co-captain and senior point guard Brit James said. “This is a really fun night. The support is really good and it’s big in the community, they really support us and that’s for all of our sports.”

“We’ve had fans coming from our first game to our last, we have students coming in,” girls senior guard Sam Brusha said. “It makes us feel important, it makes us feel liked and that we’re loved. It’s such a nice feeling to have.”

Both teams are on a sustained run of success as well. The boys won district titles in 2014-15 and 2016-17, made the PIAA semifinals in 2013-14, won two of the first three SOL tournament titles and have won the SOL National for five straight years. The girls team won a district title in 2009-2010, made the 2014-15 district final, a conference title that same year and have made the state tournament four straight years.

With two strong programs sharing the same gym, there’s a little friendly competition going on but also a lot of mutual respect and support. When their game schedules allow it, it’s pretty common to see players from one team at the other’s games.

The faculty plays the boys and girls varsity basketball teams at Abington High School’s Maroon Madness night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

“We’re really good at supporting each other,” Brusha said. “We all like the game, so we enjoy going out to seeing the boys play and giving them support and they do the same for us.”

“We’re competitive with each other but we also have fun together, we’re really tight,” boys senior guard Robbie Heath said. “Everyone on both teams has been successful both individually and as a team and we try to be there for each other.”

The surge in support for the two programs was never more evident than the night they both won their district titles. At Villanova, a wall of white-clad Abington students provided a non-stop deluge of energy as the girls and boys won district trophies and it felt like a game back home.

“We weren’t even that nervous, you’d look around and most of the fans were there for Abington,” Brusha said. “It felt like were back here right in our own gym.”

Sure, some of the mid-week games aren’t capacity crowds, but bring a Pennsbury or Neshaminy into Abington and the fans show up. Heath, who feeds off the crowd, loves the feel of a big game.

“It’s a great atmosphere, it’s like what you see in movies,” Heath said. “Everyone’s in one color, everyone’s chanting. The opposing team, to me, it seems a little intimidating to them and it’s great for us.”

“In the beginning, it can be a bit nerve-wracking,” James said. “Once you start playing, it’s just like any other game. We’re family and you know they all have your back.”

The night was a special one for Heath, who scored his 1,000th point during the district playoffs last year. Not only was his name added to the banner but he joined his father, Robert “Tiger” Heath, a 1982 grad, in the Ghosts’ 1,000-point club as the first father-son duo in Abington history to both reach the milestone.

Robbie has already surpassed Tiger in total points and the younger Heath is hoping to make a run at the school’s all-time scoring record.

“When I came here in 2009 for two weeks to visit, we walked in this gym and he pointed to that banner,” Heath said. “I’ve already surpassed him in scoring, so we have some jokes about that.”

Both squads open the season next weekend, and their home openers are fittingly a doubleheader on Saturday, with the girls playing at 3:30 p.m. and the boys following at 5 p.m. With standout junior Eric Dixon back along with Heath and Monroe, the boys figure to again contend for the District I title while the girls return four starters in Brusha, James, Kassondra Brown and Cam Lexow and are also eyeing a competitive season.

“Our identity is high-tempo, pushing the ball up and playing really hard with an aggressive defense,” Brusha said. “We lost Lizzie (Oleary) but we all play like guards, even Kassondra, we’ve all worked on our game and it’s going to be our strength to try and run teams off the court.”

The faculty plays the boys and girls varsity basketball teams at Abington High School’s Maroon Madness night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Abington’s support for the teams extends far past the confines of the school’s gym. It’s that kind of backing, plus the seemingly simple moments off the court, that keep Monroe from getting tired when he’s playing at home.

“You see all these people that come out and support you, it’s really cool, you’ll see your teachers, your neighbors even just random people out to show you they care and support the team,” Monroe said. “I’ve been out in the community and had little kids say ‘that’s No. 22 from the basketball’ team or other people’s parents say good game. Even the district championship, we had like 8,000 people there and it just shows they embrace us and we embrace that too. We try to play hard for them.”

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