Inspired by LM's current run to the District Final, alumnus and Dawg Pounder emeritus Sam Moore '07 shares his thoughts on Aces Nation and the power of basketball to unite a school community.
The score was tied at 49. 0.8 seconds remained.
Garrett Williamson stepped to the foul line with a chance to send Lower Merion to the state playoffs for the first time in years. An entire gym screamed as the first shot was cast into mid-air. It felt like an eternity passed before the ball fell through the net, but the roar from the Lower Merion faithful was unmistakable. One more free throw and 0.8 seconds later, it was over.
The Aces had arrived at the gym of their biggest rival and earned their ticket to the dance against a team that had owned them in recent years.
A feeling of sheer euphoria, pride, and shock swept over me moments later as the Dawg Pound boldly stormed the Ridley High School gymnasium floor and celebrated what had minutes ago seemed inconceivable. As I rode triumphantly out of that gym, piggy-backing on the shoulders of my good friend Brett Yalof, nobody had any idea that this would be just one of dozens of defining victories for the Aces over the next few years. Truman, Central Dauphin, State College, Erie Cathedral Prep, Springfield, Plymouth Whitemarsh, McCaskey, Upper Darby, Easton, Chester, Schenley -- to name a few.
But for me, it all comes back to one night in Folsom, Pennsylvania. That night -- February 16, 2005 -- began a run that has inspired a community, and laid the groundwork for a magical basketball journey that continues to thrive to this day. Lower Merion 51, Ridley 49. The birth of Aces Nation.
The memories that were forged during those incredible playoff runs of 2005, 2006 and 2007 will stay with me forever, as well as the distinct feel and energy of each season. From the improbable march to the state championship game in 2005, resplendent with long road trips, one-point victories, last-second heroics, and the simple joy of rooting for a team that the skeptics repeatedly counted out.
The 2006 season, a story of redemption; finally pulling off an absolutely electric state semifinal victory over the mighty Chester Clippers at the Palestra, followed by one of the most raucous, cathartic on-court celebrations the hallowed gymnasium has ever seen. And who could forget the 9 points in 29 seconds that propelled the Aces to their first post-Kobe state championship? It was a story of a team, in every sense of the word, coming together at the most crucial times and reaching the mountaintop after being left at the altar the year before.
The 2007 season saw a team that was supposed to be "rebuilding" find itself a new identity and make its own improbable runs in both the district and state playoffs.
The experience of being among friends while your school battles the best teams in the state is one of the best things that Lower Merion has to offer. As great as the games were, things like the 8-man minivan/hatchback rides, and the frigid tailgates with fellow Dawg Pounders, and just the overall experience was what made being a part of Aces Nation so special.
The years may have passed, and the names of the players are different, and LM may even be viewed as a favorite more often than not (Friday's game notwithstanding), but the story remains the same: a proud and vocal student body, a loyal local community, a cunning and tenacious coach, and a team that doesn't care about individual accolades.
It's hard to express the nostalgia of having graduated a while ago, yet coming back and seeing "District 1 Championship: Lower Merion vs. Chester"?.
To LM's current students -- in the coming years you will have a good look back and will cherish these days and be thankful that you were able to experience Aces Nation. And if you don't believe me, just look in the stands on Friday night and you'll see plenty of recent (and not-so-recent) LM alumni who are thrilled to see the tradition continue.
In high school basketball it really doesn't get any bigger than Friday night, LM vs. Chester. Be loud, make an impact on the game, and most of all, enjoy the experience. Let's Go Aces.