HARWICH — In 1975 Cape Cod Regional Technical High School opened its doors for the first time, marking the beginning of decades of academic and athletic traditions. On Feb. 14, 2020 the Cape Tech boys varsity basketball team became the last to play a competitive game in what's become known as the “old gym.” Though their Old Colony opponents claimed victory, for the 2019-2020 Crusaders, the night was still a win.
“My first game in here was either '73 or '74 when I played for Nauset,” said Cape Tech head coach Brent Warren.
Warren recalled a sizable player on the Crusader squad who, during the rush to snag a rebound, collided with Warren's face, breaking his nose.
“Back in those days they stuck cotton up my nose, wrapped tape around my head, and told me to 'get back out there boy and do what you've been taught,'” he said.
Though times have changed, paving the way for the nearly-built new school set to open in September, the current Crusaders played their last ballgame as if being cheered on by the echoes of past players.
“There's a lot of fond memories in this gym,” Warren said. “I had Freeman (Perry). I didn't think that anybody would take his (1,400-plus-points) record, and then Dom (Richmond) did it two years later. It was nice watching these kids grow up. It's fun to watch young men start off. When you see them [grow] that's the reward in this job. That's why people do this.”
Throughout his team's final game, Warren celebrated their strong moments, from a solid shot by Tyjon Barrett, to a perfect three-pointer from senior captain Lucas DeSouza, his smile almost as wide as those on his players' faces.
“It's all about the kids,” he said. “If you're not here for the kids, I don't know what you're doing.”
The Valentines Day game kicked off with a special ceremony that first celebrated the history of the to-be-torn down gymnasium (though players confessed that they won't miss the rubber-over-concrete floor), and then honored the team's three seniors, including DeSouza and Dante Ford.
But there were a few surprises thrown into the mix, as well. Cape Tech Athletic Director honored Warren for his years of service both as head coach and teacher, and also Food Services Director Mark Ayala, a 1979 graduate of Cape Tech and an unwavering supporter of the basketball program.
After a celebratory mock jump ball, it was time for the real thing.
Having played Old Colony to a 70-60 loss back in January, the Crusaders were well aware of the opposing team's prowess. But a pregame pep talk from Warren set the tone for the outing.
“We talked before the game and I said, 'No matter what happens, win, lose, or draw, we're out of it. This is our last game,” Warren said. “'We're not secretly getting in the tournament so let's have fun.'”
So they did. During the opening frame, the two teams traded points throughout, with Old Colony taking just a two-point 16-14 lead into the second quarter, before extending the lead slightly during the second, making it 36-30 at the break.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Old Colony ran away with the game in the second half, outscoring the home team 18-4. Though the fourth quarter was slightly better, there was no coming back from the deficit for Cape Tech.
But somehow, it was okay.
“I've always told these guys that it's all about them. It's about them creating memories for each other,” Warren said. “If they're sitting around in 10 years talking about something Coach did, I didn't do my job right. It should be about what they did and did for each other.”
For Warren, there was much to celebrate. Acknowledging that this year's team certainly had its growing pains, Warren was pleased to see them finally “get it” in their last game together.
“This team was rough. This group of young men was a challenge. It took us a while to figure things out,” Warren said. “The first day of practice I tell them that I'll take 15 guys and go 0-20, but if they came together as a team I feel like I've done my job. I'll take 15 guys and go 20-0, but if they did not come together as a team, I feel like I failed.”
Warren said it took them until nearly the end of the season to find their flow.
“If somebody says, 'It's too late now,' you know what? You go until the very, very bitter end, and it took us almost to the very, very bitter end to figure that out this year,” he said. “And it was quite challenging. For me it was, 'Am I doing something wrong? What's going on?'”
Warren urged them to recall what made them start playing the sport in the first place.
“Remember why you started doing this when you were a little kid,” he said. “Remember that it was all about fun, being with your friends, and having fun. There's no reason that should change when it becomes competitive.”
But his team's final game made it clear they had finally found their flow, win or lose.
First, there was DeSouza's big score.
“My senior center, playing the one guard, got his three-pointer,” Warren said. “I heard him call, 'Glass!'”
DeSouza’s teammates went wild.
Then there were great moments from Austin Walker, Leon Lopes, Kane DeBarros, and Q Pigo-Cronin, and a few good blocks from Ford.
“Even the kids on the bench, everybody was smiling, everybody was laughing, everybody was having fun,” said Warren. “It wasn't about the game. It wasn't about the other team. It wasn't about the competition. It was about them. That's what I wanted them to remember. It's better late than never.”
“Coming in as a freshman I didn't know anything about basketball,” said DeSouza. “I didn't even know how to shoot the ball. So me developing in this game, it meant a lot. Now, my senior year getting to be a varsity captain, it really meant a lot to me.”
DeSouza said this was the first game in which he felt his team had really come together.
“This is the first time I felt like we were a team,” he said. “We were actually cheering each other on. Even though we lost, we still worked together no matter what. It was a really good feeling, probably one of the best feelings I've ever had.”
Ford said he'll miss his teammates and the connection they have.
“Being part of this team has been pretty fun for me,” he said. “It feels pretty good. Pretty exciting.”
And now, the lights off and the banners soon to come down in preparation for their relocation to the new gym, Warren hopes his team remembers their finer moments, as well as the values learned during each practice and every game in the old gym.
“We talk about team values a lot,” he said. “Are they values of convenience or values of conviction? I want to stand on something we believe, not on something we're saying just because we think it's right. It took us a while to figure that one out, too, but we did, and it was a great example tonight.”