Mac Mills and Jim Leifer might as well have a photographic memory for the State B basketball tournament.
They remember how their tallest guy one year was only 6-foot-3. How one player scored more points than their whole team. How lumpy the floor was in the old Coliseum.
Between the two second cousins, themselves included, they’ve had 14 family members across four generations make it to the state tournament for the boys and girls teams at St. John-Endicott. The lineage dates back to Mills’ father, who played in 1934 before the tournament was broken into separate tournaments based on the size of the school.
“It’s just tradition,” Mills said.
That’s like saying “Hoosiers” was just a basketball movie.
Mills has watched at least one championship tournament game every year since 1958. He was part of the 1966 St. John team that placed third his senior year. His son and daughter both played basketball for St. John, and his son’s team made state in 1990.
On Thursday, he and Leifer – accompanied by virtually all of their town’s roughly 500 citizens – were on hand to see Mills’ granddaughter, senior Devan Bafus, play for St. John-Endicott in the 1B tournament.
“If there was a fire in St. John, there wasn’t any volunteer firefighters to fight it because they’re all at the state championship,” Leifer said.
As the town shrinks, the high school – which has just 68 students this year – has had a harder time each year filling athletic teams. To make it to the state championship tournament is all the more impressive as a result.
“It will be something they’ll remember the rest of their lives,” Mills said.
Mills and Leifer remember their time as players on the big stage – especially that lumpy floor.
“It was so uneven, you dribble the ball and you didn’t know where it would come back to you,” Mills said.
In towns where basketball is life, where parents are at every game and kids learn to dribble about when they can walk, the state tournament excitement level can rival that of March Madness.
Mills called basketball “the only entertainment” in the town of St. John.
As a result, Leifer said, the town supports the team fully and has been able to watch the kids play since their first organized games as third-graders.
Mills said he hopes to live long enough to see one more generation play basketball, and just maybe make it back to the state tournament.
“I’ll be here if I can,” he said.