As he walked out of the Smith Center in Chapel Hill after winning the state 4A boys basketball championship, Eddie Gray had a phone pressed to his ear.
“It was David West and he was in the locker room with the Pacers,” Gray said. “They just had played the Celtics and he was calling to offer us his congratulations and tell us how proud he was to be a part of the program. To have somebody in that spot, take the time out right then to call us, it showed you how special winning a state championship is.”
It was one of the first signs Gray got that the week that followed wouldn’t be a normal week by any stretch.
Championship celebration rallies, calls from national holiday tournaments wanting the Trojans to head their way next December, trying to respond to hundreds of text messages, those are just some of the things that have dotted the schedule of Gray and the Trojans in the past week.
The aftermath of a state championship celebration, as Princeton’s volleyball team found out in November and Garner is finding out this week includes a lot of work — work that any coach or team would be glad to have — in the days that follow.
Princeton volleyball coach Paige Renfrow said one of the most surprising things was the number of appearances the team was asked to make in the days and weeks after the win.
The Bulldogs were honored at a Princeton town meeting, by the Johnston County Board of Education, at the Johnston County Comissioners meeting and at George Whitfield’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in January.
“I was unaware that we would be asked to be honored at so many places,” Renfrow said. “I didn’t realize the responsibilities of winning a championship. This experience has been unbelievable.”
Gray has handed off some of the decision making in deciding the design and look of a state championship ring to his wife. He said he’s already gotten offers to help pay for the players’ rings, including a donation from the fire department.
Princeton, which ordered its rings within a couple of weeks after the state championship win, is still waiting for the rings to arrive. Once they do, a ring ceremony will be planned.
“It has been a great experience as you can imagine,” said Princeton athletic director Marty Gurganus. “The rings have taken a little longer to arrive than what was first anticipated but the weather has affected shipping and other things. The company we ordered the rings through has been great to work with. It is just a process you have to go through.”
Garner athletic director Nelson Smith spent the back half of the week working with Trojan Club (the Garner athletic booster club) leaders on ordering championship merchandise (t-shirts, sweats, hats, etc.) for the school to sell.
Princeton’s coaches — Paige Renfrow and Paula Wooten — handled most of the design and selction process for their championship memorabilia, working with Mike Rose, a Princeton grad, at QuickShirts, which does most of the Bulldogs’ clothing work.
Princeton has its giant state championship team photo — like the ones already hanging for its baseball title teams — in hand and is likely to wait and display it once the Bulldogs’ new gymnasium opens.
Garner’s basketball team will get a similar treatment in the halls where the state championship football team photo currently hangs.
Both teams know they’ll be remembered for years to come at their schools and have been thankful for the chance they’ve had in the spotlight, for what it brought their teams and their communities.
“The community support and recognition that you are still receiving is unreal,” Renfrow said. “I just hope that the girls have soaked it all up and enjoyed it for the whole year.”
Gray said the championship feeling has created a different atmosphere in the halls of Garner the past week, one he hopes will carry over for the rest of the year.
“When you walk the halls of Garner this week, everybody’s smiling and upbeat,” Gray said. “Winning a state championship has a carry over effect and it’s helped morale and school pride. That’s something that we can all be proud of.”