KRUM — Driving away from Interstate 35 and down FM1173, the signs marking the Krum girls basketball team’s run to the Class 3A state tournament are far from metaphorical.
There’s the “State Bound!!!” message on a bank’s tall, roadside sign that flashes occasionally along with the day’s time and temperature. Small cardboard signs line the side of the road with the numbers of each player on the team.
And if it wasn’t obvious enough, there’s a large white banner draped atop the entrance of Bennie Ennis Gym with the same message.
But what’s not apparent driving around is evident once you step inside the gym, where the boards from all the great Krum basketball teams hang on the wall, a testament to the sport’s heritage in the town.
Of all the boards, only one belongs to a girls team — the 1982 girls basketball team, the only Krum girls squad to reach the state tournament. That was before this year.
This year’s squad is one of four teams remaining in the 3A playoffs. The Lady Cats have the opportunity to bring home Krum’s first girls basketball state championship. The journey begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, when Krum (29-6) faces Mexia (34-3) in the state semifinals at the Frank Erwin Center on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.
“It’s been an immense honor,” Krum senior guard Rachel Wallace said. “It’s been exciting. To know that we’ve been reaching for this goal forever and to finally get it and it’s been 31 years for us to represent our town like this, it’s been amazing.”
The last time the Lady Cats went to the state tournament, Krum faced Nazareth in the Class A state semifinals. Nazareth had won five straight state titles, four in Class B and the Class A title in 1981. In ’82, both teams were playing in the state’s smallest qualification.
Nazareth’s defense stymied Krum’s offense and went on to a 61-33 win before winning the state title.
Page Wojciak, who was then known as Page Smithers, was on the 1982 team. After three straight years of losing to Brock in the bi-district round, the team finally broke through the barrier and reached the state semifinals.
Wojciak recalls the regional final when Krum knocked off Priddy to advance to the state tournament.
“I just remember we were pulling ahead by five or seven with less than a minute, and that feeling that you just know that you’ve got it, you’re going,” Wojciak said. “There’s just nothing like it.”
The former Krum guard and now Krum Middle School teacher was in attendance during Tuesday’s pep rally at the high school for this year’s girls team, in which the entire district came to support the squad looking to bring home the state’s ultimate trophy.
“I can’t even describe the feeling that you get when they’re all packed in the gym and they’re cheering for your team and nobody else,” Krum coach Lana Degelia said. “That’s why they were here.”
Degelia knows all about the storied tradition at Krum. Degelia grew up playing for Krum’s longtime rival Ponder. Degelia was a guard for the Lady Lions and graduated in 1986. She remembers the games between the two teams, when the gym was full and the only room left was against the walls or on the baseline.
“It didn’t get any better than that,” Degelia said.
The 10th-year Krum head coach said she went 8-0 against Krum while playing at Ponder, a fact she said quietly, as if to prevent it from being heard outside her coaching office.
The traditions at places like Krum and Ponder are unique to most towns around the state. Up until recently, Krum was without sports like volleyball and football, meaning the town’s athletic concentration was on basketball. It also doesn’t hurt that Krum was good.
For some, the game has become a tradition passed down from mothers to daughters, almost like a rite of passage. Three players on this year’s team — Wallace, senior Allison Beck, junior Caylee Thomas — are all playing for the same school where their mothers once played.
“You just always knew that basketball was the game to play,” Wallace said. “I grew up in a family of it, so that was always there. But then to have all my friends and family always saying, ‘basketball, basketball, basketball,’ it’s just been exciting to know that’s what we’re going to look forward to in high school.”
Beck grew up watching her older sister play at Krum and remembers running around the court and heaving shots toward the basket during halftime.
“My mom was from here, so that’s all I ever heard about — basketball, basketball, basketball,” Beck said. “It was just always pumped into my head. And it’s cool.”
And now, Beck, Wallace and Thomas can lay claim to something their mothers were never able to accomplish, a feat many talented Krum teams could never obtain.
“There has been a lot of talent, a lot of good teams that have played there, a lot of teams that should have gone to state and didn’t,” Wojciak said. “I’m sure there’s a little envy in every girl that’s played at Krum that wishes they could be a part of the team that’s going.”
Beck said she wouldn’t call it pressure that rests on the team, rather a source of determination and motivation to make its enthusiastic supporters proud.
Previous coaches, including legendary boys coach Bennie Ennis, Gale Marshall, the head coach of the 1982 team, and Eugene Maples, a member of the Krum boys’ 1954 state finalist team, have all expressed their support.
And around town, the thoughts linger around FM1173, if this might be the year the Lady Cats can bring a title back from Austin.
“Many people have come up to us and said, ‘Are y’all ready to be heroes?’” Beck said. “People think of basketball so highly here.”
They might not be heroes, but if the Lady Cats can win their next two games, they will be immortalized on those big, white boards inside Bennie Ennis Gym, alongside all the teams that came before them.
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .