Paxton is a “Basketball Town” in the Panhandle

February 29, 2016
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Paxton is a “Basketball Town” in the Panhandle

Paxton has a population of 706.

Its high school is somewhere around 200 kids. This year’s graduating class will fall under 40.

Yet on Wednesday a sea of red consumed the Lakeland Center.

Signs of “We Believe” and “Straight Outta Paxton” dotted the pro-Paxton crowd, which appeared ready to celebrate the program’s third state title and first since 1962.

Questions surfaced from onlookers about where this town was and its population.

Once the answer was given, there was a common refrain: “I guess the whole town showed up.”

“We closed the city down,” Jeff Bradley said in the postgame news conference.

City? Haha. Paxton is no city. Bradley, a Baker boy, of course knows this.

Yet it sounded like a metropolis throughout Wednesday night’s game, even at halftime.

With Paxton clinging to a 28-26 lead, an advantage that wouldn’t hold in an eventual 65-38 defeat, the arena’s announcer came over the P.A. system to drum up some noise. Paxton’s fan base, as it’d done all game, heeded the call.

“Who’s rooting for Chipley?” he asked.

Silence, a few claps and yells falling deafly on the cavernous arena.

“Who’s rooting for Paxton?” he asked.

Now I know what it sounded like on the set of “Oprah” when the mogul was giving out free cars to the crowd.

The arena erupted. Press row literally had to cover its ears.

“Sounds like a tie,” the P.A. announcer joked.

This outpouring of love, though, wasn’t just a product of the immense stage.

At home against Malone in the region championship, there was not a vacant parking spot or open seat.

More than a thousand people showed up that night to celebrate the Bobcats shoring up the program’s first final four since 1974.

“Bobcats Mania,” Bradley called it.

Of course the team fell short of its ultimate goal Wednesday night.

Yet even in defeat the crowd noise never waned.

“Keep your head up,” the Bobcats faithful yelled postgame as their players received the second-place medals. “We love you.”

“The heartbeat of this program, of the team is this community,” Bradley said. “When I came here in the 1994-1995 season, they welcomed me and let me learn on the job. They embraced me.”

“This is a basketball town. It’ll always be a basketball town.”

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