GLENS FALLS — Spurred on by a roaring home crowd and the grit and determination of its players, the Glens Falls boys basketball team won the whole thing Sunday.
The Indians held off Cardinal O’Hara for an impressive 88-79 victory in the Class B boys title game of the Federation Tournament of Champions — the very last basketball game of the season — that had Cool Insuring Arena rocking for a few hours this weekend.
The victory capped off a remarkable 29-1 season for Glens Falls, which had won the state public schools championship last weekend in Binghamton to earn the trip back home for the Federation Tournament.
“Our goal when we went to states was obviously to win a state championship, but the biggest thing was to get back to Glens Falls and finish our careers out in front of the people that we started it with,” said Glens Falls senior Joseph Girard III, who poured in a game-high 43 points to lead the Indians. “We love them as much as they love us.”
“You never would have thought of little Glens Falls winning the Federation Tournament of Champions,” said his cousin, senior Trent Girard, who added 21 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:45 left that all but sealed victory for the Indians. “Everybody thinks of these little city schools as nothing special, but we beat them all, so we’re champs — kings of New York.”
It was the third major championship for Glens Falls this year, as the football team — including several players on the basketball squad — also won a state title in Class B.
“We talked about the storybook career and the fairy tale, and this just topped that,” said Joseph Girard’s father, Joe Girard Jr. “How do you do what this team has done in football, and then you do it in basketball? We finally make a state title game for the first time since 2007, and it’s in Binghamton — so the only way we’re going to get back here is to come play in the Federation. And then to win it — it’s beyond a fairy tale.”
“It means everything. We’ve grown up together, we’ve dreamed about this, we remember watching Jimmer (Fredette) here thinking, ‘I want to play in this, I want to be here one day,’” Trent Girard said. “And it’s crazy to think that we made it farther than him, and we did something that’s never been done — winning states has never been done, 29 wins is a record, and winning Federation has never been done. It’s just unbelievable.”
It was also a grand finale for Glens Falls as host of the Federation Tournament, which heads to its new home at Fordham University in the Bronx next year.
With local fans turning out in force for Glens Falls’ semifinal game Saturday and its championship victory Sunday afternoon, there was a buzz about this year’s Federation Tournament that few have equaled. Lines reached around the building and down Oakland Avenue as thousands waited to enter the arena.
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According to figures released by Jeff Mead, general manager of Cool Insuring Arena, the estimated total attendance for the weekend was 10,800. It was not a record, however, as the 2001 Federation Tournament attracted 12,544 over the three days.
Saturday’s Class B boys semifinal between Glens Falls and South Bronx Prep brought 5,910 fans to the arena, which has a maximum basketball capacity of 6,300. The total attendance for Sunday was approximately 3,950.
While the Federation Tournament moves out of Glens Falls, the State Boys Basketball Tournament returns to Cool Insuring Arena next year after three years in Binghamton.
“It’s an incredible sendoff, but it’s also a huge welcome back to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association state championship,” said Robert Zayas, the executive director of NYSPHSAA. “We’ve been gone for three years, but this is a huge indication of the community support that we can get ready for in 2020. We’re excited to come back to Glens Falls.”
Tournament director Chip Corlew echoed Zayas’ sentiment.
“The excitement for next year’s (state) tournament started this weekend,” said Corlew, who is also the athletic director at Glens Falls High School. “I think everybody I spoke to in the city of Glens Falls is so excited, but they’re also excited that the Federation Tournament came back here. We had a conference call last week — we wanted this (Glens Falls) team on this date to be in this game, and it worked out. And it’s surreal to think that it happened.”
The Federation Tournament called Glens Falls home for 30 years before moving to Albany for the next six years, then returning to Glens Falls in 2017.
The Federation Tournament has never been as well-attended as the state boys tournament, because it includes mostly schools from the New York City metropolitan area. The Federation brings together the champions of the state public, private, Catholic and New York City public schools.
However, this weekend brought the crowds out to cheer for the hometown team — and watch the superb Syracuse-bound JG3 one more time — and the Indians delivered a most appropriate finish to the final Federation Tournament in Glens Falls.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better than this — fantastic crowd, fantastic atmosphere for these kids to be able to participate in,” Zayas said. “I’ve lived in New York now for seven years, and this is what people have grown accustomed to in Glens Falls — this type of support, this type of passion and this type of enthusiasm.”
“We couldn’t be happier or more proud of this community for coming out again,” Joe Girard Jr. said.
Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity.