They kept arriving, almost all of them clad in blue and white.
Starting before the 4 p.m. tipoff of the girls’ junior varsity game, and continuing through the boys JV and girls varsity games that followed, they filled nearly every open space in the modest gymnasium Friday — each bleacher opening, each folding chair.
They stood along the walls and in the corners, and they huddled along the railing of the second-floor weight room overlooking the court so that when the boys varsity game began just after 9 p.m., it seemed anyone connected to St. Mary’s High School was there to bid farewell.
On the final night of the regular season, all four St. Mary’s basketball teams played Sherwood in the final home games in school history. The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph announced last month that the 102-student school would close after 160 years due to declining enrollment.
The arrivals included students, some with their chests painted to match the school colors, others in shirts proclaiming they “Bleed Blue and White” or are “Forever A Trojan.”
“I am definitely going to hold onto (St. Mary’s),” said junior wrestling captain Sawyer Meese, who has not decided what high school he will attend next year. “I consider most of these people my family. It’s such a great place.”
Others were alumni of all ages — the oldest from the Class of 1940—who wore ribbons and filled two bulletin boards with signatures as they entered the lobby. Some were parents and faculty who have given years of dedication and financial support.
And all in attendance gave nearly every member of the school community — not just basketball players, but faculty past and present, wrestlers, cheerleaders, the academic team, and all the children and middle schoolers who no longer can look forward to being St. Mary’s students — undivided attention as they were honored during the minutes before each game, between each quarter and at halftimes.
“It is absolutely amazing, the crowd support, the alumni support,” said assistant principal and activities director Sara Kenney, a 1987 graduate. “It shows everyone we are really a family here.”
In the wake of the announcement, there was grief from students who will now have to finish high school elsewhere, Kenney said. But Friday was a time for celebration
“(The school community has) rallied together,” said Lori Jonas, a member of the class of 1979 and St. Mary’s staff member whose son is a sophomore. “The students have gotten over the shock of it.”
On the court, the teams played intensely in front of crowds they’d never seen. The girls varsity team, 7-17, fell short 54-50 after its late rally, but the players left the court to an ovation with smiles on their faces.
But the final honors would wait until after the final game of the night to prevent the full weight of emotion from spilling: a truly final Senior Night recognizing the players and their parents.
“There’s enough on their minds already (going into the game),” third-year boys head coach Carlos Paige said. “Everything will probably sink in all at once (after).”
During the night, sadness seemed absent, though the finality seemed evident. By the time the floor cleared of athletes for the final time that was likely to change.
“I know we’re going to see some tears,” Kenney said. “From players, parents, alumni, and, I know, myself.”
That realization was there for everyone, waiting for a last-second release.