Wayne Kemper’s impact on the Springboro community and girls basketball program was undeniable. So was the Panthers’ desire to win Monday’s game for him.
A day after Kemper, Boro's junior varsity coach, passed away from natural causes, Springboro rallied for a 53-50 victory over Centerville in a highly anticipated Division I district semifinal matchup of area heavyweights at Troy High School.
Springboro improves to 20-5 and will face Lakota West (20-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m. in a district final at Princeton High School. Centerville finishes 16-9. Fairmont (23-2) beat Beavercreek 36-12 in the second game Monday. The Firebirds will face Cincinnati Walnut Hills at 5 p.m. Saturday at Princeton. The Beavers finish 15-10.
Kemper, 71, coached in the Springboro system for nearly 40 years. He was a 1967 grad.
“We found out the news about our coach passing yesterday and we knew it was going to be tough,” Springboro junior Jordan Hobbs said. “We had a team meeting and we knew we were going to play today. We knew it was going to be a super emotional night, but we had to do it for him. We played our hearts out. We know he is proud of us.”
“When I walked in the locker room yesterday the kids said ‘We’re playing’ and ‘We’re dedicating this game to Wayne,’” Springboro head coach Tom Benjamin said. “I went in to console them and they consoled me. I’m so proud of them.”
Boro rode its emotional tidal wave to a 15-0 first quarter lead. After that Centerville went on a 40-15 run to build a 10-point third-quarter advantage.
Unlike last year, when the Panthers lost a 17-point fourth quarter lead in a 65-63 loss to Centerville in the sectional, Boro flipped the script.
Down 42-36, the Panthers opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 blitz. The catalyst was 6-foot-1 senior MyKel Nation, who scored seven points in the run and gave Boro the lead for a good (44-42) on a 3-pointer in front of a jacked-up Panthers’ student section.
“When we walked onto the floor for the fourth quarter we all looked at each other and said, ‘For Kemper,’” Hobbs said. “We knew he was with us.”
Centerville pulled to within 46-45 with 1:30 left on freshman Kendal George’s seventh 3-pointer and Amy Velasco’s 3 with 13.8 seconds left drew the Elks to within 52-50. After a free throw by Boro junior Peyton Nation, Centerville’s final shot fell short.
George led all scorers with 21 points and added to her Centerville single-season record for made 3s (68). Junior Amy Velasco added 13 points. Sophomore sensation Cotie McMahon was held to eight points (10.5 under her average) and went 0-for-6 from the free throw line. Foul trouble hindered her performance.
Hobbs paced Boro with 20 points, while Peyton Nation added 13. MyKel Nation chipped in 11.
Counselors were available throughout the school day Monday at Springboro for students and staff.
“I think our effort was a tribute to Wayne and maybe he helped us a little,” Benjamin said. “He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. This one was for him.”
“He was the most inspirational coach I’ve ever had,” MyKel Nation said. “He was just a great guy and his time with us will always be remembered. Tears of joy and tears for him. We did this for Wayne and we’ll continue to win for him.”
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