HEIDELBERG, Germany — An hour before game time, Heidelberg senior Emma Roberts was sprawled out on the floor putting her name on a banner emblazoned with the motto Heidelberg High adopted for its final year: Last Roar.
In a way, the motto is also its epitaph.
One of the oldest American schools in Europe, Heidelberg has a storied basketball tradition, with 25 championships between its girls and boys squads. Both teams won European titles last year.
But Saturday’s focus was on the last home basketball games that would ever be played at Heidelberg High School, and emotions were high.
“It’s so sad,” Roberts, one of the Lady Lions’ top scorers, said. “But it should be awesome, I hope.”
Girls coach Jon Mittenzwey’s father was Heidelberg’s first girls coach in the 1970s, a fact that gave an extra sense of symbolism to the event for the son.
“I mentioned it to him a while ago, I said, ‘Dad, what do you think the chances are I’ll be the last?” he said. “It seems to have come to fruition.”
The game itself, he said, wasn’t all that important. The players agreed, saying next week’s European championships were the real must-win.
“But the fact that this is the last time Heidelberg High School players will suit up and walk on that floor,” Mittenzwey said, “is kind of a big deal.”
His team busted through their homemade banner to cheers from a crowd much smaller than in years past.
Gilberto Rodriguez, 77 and a longtime Heidelberg fan, was one of the only old-guard fans in attendance. The rest, he said, have either moved on or are scrambling to find jobs elsewhere and didn’t have time to attend.
“I’m glad that I’m here for the last game,” he said. “But I regret that it is the last game. You look out there in the hallway and you see all those trophies. There’s a tremendous history.”
The Lady Lions lived up to that history, grabbing an early lead and never letting it go.
“To be able to go out the way we did is amazing,” senior Kylee Miller said.
After the girls’ 42-26 win over Bamberg, the pressure was on for the boys to do the same.
“We have such a huge burden on our shoulders because Heidelberg has such an amazing past,” senior Devyn Tucker, who has lived in Heidelberg since the age of one, said.
The gym’s notoriously uncomfortable galleries were slightly more full for the boys’ game, and the cheering grew louder.
But visiting Bamberg proved too much for the Lions, whose roster has been decimated by the community’s drawdown. Just two starters from last year’s championship-winning team were back this year, Tucker said after his team fell 71-55 to the visitors.
“We wanted to go out with a bang, but it just didn’t fall for us.”
As far as basketball goes, both Heidelberg teams are focusing on next week’s championships. But players and parents were caught up as well in what many said was just another “last” for the dwindling community.
“It’s very emotional,” Sharon Roberts, mother of Emma Roberts, said. “Emma’s played here for two years. She was up at Mannheim the year before that, and we don’t want to see it end. Most of the parents here are having a very hard time.”
“I hate to see a grown man cry, but I’ve done that a couple of times,” Rodriguez said. “So that tells you something, you know?”
Barry Patrick has put four sons through Heidelberg, including senior Joseph Patrick, and the school’s closure is emotional, he said, because it felt like they were closing down their home.
“Everything we do this year, our kids are celebrating a last of something. They’re going to have the last prom coming up soon.”
Both parents and kids had tears in their eyes when the banners were folded at the school’s last football game, he said. There were a few damp eyes Saturday as well, especially after the boys’ loss.
“It’s so sad,” Tucker said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and to see the last everything, you know, it kind of stings a little to know that all this – everything I’ve grown up with – it’s not going to be here anymore. It’s the last everything.”