It was a night for nostalgia Tuesday in the East Hall gymnasium.
Old faces from several generations of basketball teams returned to Valhalla for a set of alumni games aimed toward raising money for the school and celebrating Vikings coach Seth Vining’s 68th birthday. Players going back to the class of 1970 along with fans and even a group of alumni cheerleaders filled the gym that has played host to several region and state championship teams throughout the years.
“It’s just great to see,” Vining said of the night’s turnout. “There’s people in this gym that are here for the first time in 10 years. That’s kind of special that they’re back. Hopefully they continue to come back.”
“Tonight’s just been excellent, just a fun night,” East Hall girls coach Justin Wheeler added. “… We’re just out here having fun.”
None of the four games played were lacking for competitive spirit, but fun was the priority throughout the event. And whether it was one of the night’s youngest participants in freshman Callie Dale playfully staring down her sister Chelsea on the alumni bench after hitting a lead-taking shot in the first game of the night, or Dennis Bell — the oldest player to return and a member of the class of 1970 — pulling down rebounds over players 25 years his junior, there was never a shortage of fun moments.
The event began with a competitive matchup between the current East Hall girls team and an alumni girls team that was back-and-forth until the very end. With the younger team trailing by three in the closing moments of the game, Audrey Griffin was fouled on a half-court heave at the buzzer, but she only managed to convert two of three free throws. The alumni took a 37-36 win.
Next up, players ranging from the class of 1970 to the class of 2000 clashed in the aptly named “old timer’s” game. That contest was also a wire-to-wire, competitive affair, despite the advanced ages of some of its participants. Bell, who did not score but did pull in a couple of key rebounds and poke away a steal that led to a basket on the other end, said his love of the game keeps him playing “two to three times a week” even as he moves through his 60s.
“I just love the game,” he said. “I just keep playing because I love the game. I love the competitiveness.”
Bell’s Black team won 48-45 over the Gold team.
The next matchup was a battle between players from different championship eras, with members of the 2001 and 2003 state championship team clashing with players from the 2005 championship squad. The groups were separated by just one point at halftime, but 2005’s Frank Davis caught fire in the second half and there was no looking back.
Davis hit five 3s, pouring in all of his game-leading 15 points in the final 15 minutes of the contest, and earning the 2005 team a 67-47 victory. But for Davis, the experience itself was more important than the results.
“It’s just a lot of memories, a lot of good times, a lot of good people,” Davis said of his thoughts on returning to his old school. “The thing I remember the most is the fans and the community. Seeing some of the same faces is just a great experience.”
In the nightcap, the best East Hall’s alumni teamed up to teach the current team a lesson or two, earning a 69-42 victory and sending the older fans in the crowd home with one last dose of nostalgia.
The event was dubbed a major success by Vining, who coached the current East Hall team and also had the entire gym sing “Happy Birthday” while he stood at center court in between games.
Vining praised the school staff and volunteers who had a hand in making sure the night went off without a hitch. But above all, he was pleased with the turnout of fans who are always eager to support their community’s basketball team.
“It’s been a great turnout; I’m pleased,” he said. “...It’s been good for our program. Hopefully the community is excited and we can build off this and do some more events like this."