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High school hoops returns to Ripley for a Friday night special

January 28, 2016
By Craig Harvey ( , Westfield Republican

RIPLEY (Jan. 22)- For one night, the bleachers at Ripley Central School were crowded. The sound of a basketball dribbling back and forth on the hardwood court could be heard as you entered the gymnasium doors.

When the Chautauqua Lake Thunderbirds hosted the Falconer Golden Falcons in a CCAA Division 1 West boys high school basketball contest, it was more than just a game.

It was the same court where coaches such as Dave Luder taught the game of basketball.

Article Photos

Photos by Lisa Monacelli
Fans filled the stands at Ripley High School Friday night when the Chautauqua Lake Thunderbirds hosted the Falconer Golden Falcons in a CCAA West 1 boys basketball matchup.

Players such as Paul Bretz, Donny Jackson and Kurt Raeder graced the floor back in the 1980s.

In the late 1980s, Bretz set a Chautauqua County record with 56 points in a 73-71 victory over Mayville at the old Mayville School.

"My god, when we had a game, you had to put fans up on the stage," Luder recalled. "The whole community came out. Ripley loves their own. They have a special small town pride. They really support their kids. The community would always meet us with support."

Not to mention it was the court where Sam Eimers almost single-handedly led the Lady Eagles to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D state Final 4 in 2008.

Aaron Swan, Devin Pope, Tyler Meredith, Collin Sargent, Michael Lisek, Michael Boll, Bryce Bentley and John Tessmer were elementary school students in the Ripley district at that time. With Ripley now merged with Chautauqua Lake, those eight players are Thunderbirds, instead of Eagles.

But Friday night, basketball returned to their home court.

"We practiced there this week," Chautauqua Lake coach Michael Putney said. "It was awesome. We had people from the community strolling in and you can see that life of playing a game in Ripley again. It was an amazing thing for the town and all of our players. We are a tight-knit basketball team. The guys are so caring for each other. As soon as this was a possibility, we jumped on it. Everyone was excited."

Pope made sure to spread the lasting memories, as well. Pope recorded an assist to Hessmer, who scored his first bucket of the season.

"That was the play of night," Putney gleamed. "The place went wild. It was just amazing."

The Thunderbirds have 14 players on the roster, with eight of them Ripley residents.

"That's what they talked about all week," Putney said. "It's their home environment. That's where they grew up. It says something. It's nice to be able to play where they grew up. Ripley has a great tradition in the past."

When the game came to a close and the Thunderbirds were victorious, the Ripley faithful expressed gratitude for playing one more game on the court that has special meaning to so many people.

"I had a few of the community members come up to me and thank me for getting all the kids in the game," Putney said. "We had all Ripley kids on the floor at once at point in the game. They were thankful we could do it. It's been three years since a game was played there. This is good stuff for both schools, and for the community of Ripley, it was an awesome night."



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