A high school student body is not supposed to have a week like this, but how it handles tragedy defines the character and integrity of a city.
Derby laid Braxton Kooser to rest this week, the victim of a fatal car wreck. On Friday, every Panther on the boys' basketball team sported purple socks emblazoned with “BK13.” Some footed purple shoes, or purple laces. The student section scrounged together purple shirts, ditching Derby's traditional green and white.
But the heart of the message was felt with the Panthers' energy. They tried to match Kooser's style.
“The main aspect we talked about was everybody that knew Braxton knew the big heart that he had, and how hard he played in the sports that he played,” said Derby head coach Brett Flory. “We just talked about the way to honor him is to play as hard as he would play, and play with the kind of joy that he would play with.
“Purple socks and all that are nice and great, but the real way to honor somebody is with how you go out there and play the game. I think our guys tried to do that.”
Derby accomplished it in a 80-52 triumph over rival Campus.
It was in Taylor Schieber, who twice made every second count, driving for buzzer beaters to end each quarter in the first half. It was in Paul Theis, Derby's scrappy reserve, who flexed his muscles and let out a yell after he powered his way through a contested layup. It was in Josiah Ray, who morphed himself into whatever role needed filled on his way to nine points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
That trio teamed up for the highlight of the night. Theis found a loose ball near halfcourt, then flung it ahead toward Schieber.
“He threw it to me, found me open,” Schieber said. “I caught it and I saw Josiah open. I touched it right to him.”
Schieber's quick flick into the post fed a hungry Ray, who emphatically threw down a dunk.
The hoop put the Panthers up eight in the second quarter, but Campus later cut the deficit to two. Derby stretched the lead to nine at halftime, then capped a 14-4 run to start the third with a 3-pointer from Schieber.
Schieber finished with 22 points for Derby. Nagging injuries have held him back at times, but his healthy return brings his knack for knowing where the ball needs to go.
“One of the reasons we missed him so much is he's the guy that's best at forcing help and creating his own shots,” Flory said. “He doesn't just give us his points. He gives us points for other guys.”
Tyler Chambers tacked on 11 points and nine rebounds for Derby. Austin Vaden (13) and Colton Flax (11) each provided double figures for Campus.
Derby swept the regular season series with their rivals, but for this night, no hostile feelings were evident. Paying their respects, the Colts were also decked out in purple socks for Kooser.
“It means a lot,” Schieber said. “It shows that they care not just about their town, but about our town.”
The third quarter puzzle is not quite solved, but Derby's girls' basketball squad is showing off some new firepower.
The Panthers were stout in the first half, jumping to a 19-9 lead over Campus at the break. But as has been defining of Derby, it started to slip in the third.
“That's our Achilles' heel,” said Derby head coach Caleb Smith. “We have to figure something out.”
A 3-pointer from Brianna Bosley skimmed Derby's lead down to 22-19. The Panthers had their usual suspects available to try to surge back ahead, but they had confidence in a freshman.
Haley Mills fired off a 3-pointer and finished a 3-point play that put Derby up 33-22. That was part of a 29-6 spurt to finish the contest, as the Panthers won 51-25.
“I think they're finally getting more confident on the varsity floor,” Smith said of the inexperienced but talented freshmen class.
Alyxis Bowens topped Derby with 17 points.