Winthrop Coliseum wasn’t a church Sunday, but it sure seemed like one. The seats were for show. Everybody stood. They held hands. They sang. They prayed. They cheered. They were one. The church of basketball, and community, brought to Rock Hill and York County by the one thing that can unite all of us.
A dancing winner, because Winthrop and Rock Hill and York County are back on the map again for all America to see, for something that does not involve division and arguing and politics. Joy spread through the place, as tangible as any church, a wave of happiness and togetherness and fellowship as Winthrop University’s mens basketball team demolished Campbell 76-59 in front of a berserk crowd of more than 5,100 people.
The crowd danced. They jumped. They leaped and yelled and they would not be denied.
“We’re Number One!” The crowd screamed.
On a Sunday afternoon in Rock Hill — they were right.
One of those people was a fan named Marvin Johnson. Rock Hill all his life. A Winthrop fan forever. Johnson has been a fan when there were so few people at the arena that a belch got you thrown out for being boisterous.
“This crowd, this team, this togetherness, is what Rock Hill, South Carolina is all about,” Johnson said. “You look around and see what a winner brings. It brings people together.”
A year ago in January, the only larger crowd at the coliseum was for Donald Trump - before he was president. It was national news. And a couple months before that, Winthrop hosted the Democratic candidates on campus as America watched that, too.. The whole country saw Winthrop.
But they saw the divisions of partisan politics. Of us and them.
Not the unity of sports.
This was not the news of students protesting over the name of Tillman Hall on campus. This was students and old ladies and fathers holding babies and mothers screaming until they were hoarse standing together, all of them from every background, for a team that would not be denied.
Their shirts said: ‘Rock The Hill.” “Do what we do.” And so many shirts that were emblazoned with the simple word that united them all: “Winthrop!”
The Sunday crowd with its men and women, its black and white faces, its young and old, was something different than politics. It showed what a team, and a school, and a community, can do when it is all together cheering for the same thing.
Because for the next 10 days, every sports show on television on ESPN, every Internet posting of the tournament, will have the name Winthrop on it. The nation and world will look up Winthrop online and see Rock Hill, South Carolina. York County.
They will see the best of us.
Not Charlotte. Not Clemson — although Clemson’s football national title remains a crowning achievement for South Carolina. But Winthrop — the team that a decade ago, stunned Notre Dame during a great run of NCAA appearances when Winthrop was the perennial upset special in the brackets people pick.
Get ready to fill out your bracket again, America — write in Winthrop.
Live the dream, baby. Rock the Hill.
After the game was over the students and other fans rushed the court to be a part of that frenzied and joyous scrum on the court where all people jump together and hug and point their fingers in the air and proclaim : We are Number One!”
On a Sunday afternoon, there was no denying it. It was true. It was real. It was what the students and city and county had waited so long to come back again.
For students at Winthrop Kina Crawley, Abby Frick, Macey Bosley, Emily Crick, Megan David and JoJo Taylor, they had heard all about Winthrop’s past greatness and NCAA appearances. But Sunday, they were a part of sending the team there.
And really, sending every student and alum and member of the community there helped make it happen.
Before those lady students left, they all gathered together and were asked to tell America where they were, and where Winthrop is. Together, they all shouted: “Rock Hill, South Carolina!”