COLERAINE -- Harland Rothwell has enjoyed retirement in Crosby. One of the things that has kept him occupied is watching his grandson, Ryan Taggart, play basketball for the Crosby-Ironton Rangers.
But with the C-I teachers' strike reaching 23 days Thursday, the top-seeded Ranger boys' basketball team was without their regular head coach, Dave Galovich, for their opening-round game against eighth-seeded Blackduck in the West Subsection 7, Class 2A playoffs.
The team decided to play last Thursday despite the strike. But it wasn't until Wednesday that players found out Rothwell would be coach.
"I just wanted to make sure that this is done," said Rothwell. "At least we show up. Hopefully we can get our real coaches back. That is our primary concern."
The Rangers eliminated eighth-seeded Blackduck 67-40 Thursday in Coleraine.
Rothwell, along with 2001 C-I graduates Kyle Bartels and Tom Mount and Cuyuna Range Elementary School Principal Mindy Jezierski, were helping out. Jezierski is the only one with a coaching certificate.
"He really doesn't have anything to lose," said Taggart, a senior guard. "He's retired. He likes watching Ranger basketball. He's been doing it for many years. I think the main reason he did it is because he likes basketball. A lot of it probably has to do with me."
Rothwell said he's watched this team for the last 12 years. He said somebody had to coach and he's received a lot of support for doing it.
"I've been hearing a lot of positive things from a lot of the fans in the area," said Rothwell. "Not just parents of kids, but at the coffee shop. A lot of positives. People are glad the kids are going.
They're glad they're doing this for themselves and for C-I high school."
For the players there were no regrets. There were no problems either, only a large support group decked out in maroon and white. But loading the bus to travel the hour and 15 minutes north was unusual.
"There were cops and people everywhere," said senior forward Mitch Wood. "There was cops on the bus. There wasn't any problems getting on the bus. There was a couple carloads of people in them that were supporting us.
"The support was more than I thought it would be."
Taggart said it was almost like going to the state tournament.
"There's people on the street and it was crazy," said Taggart. "I don't know. If we get to state it's going to be nuts in Crosby."
The maroon and white of C-I did not disappoint the team that was forced with the tough decision to play. Two fan buses arrived at Greenway High School along with many cars decked out with Go C-I Go signs.
Taggart said he was glad the team decided to play.
"I'm really glad we're playing," said Taggart. "This whole thing is tearing apart the community, but this is kind of bringing them back together, I think. We're just playing for our coaches. We want our coaches back. We're not siding. We just want our coaches back and it's just got to get done."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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