The next time Centennial High School students walk into their school, they'll see a shiny, gold trophy on display, a product of the boys basketball team's Class 3A state championship victory, 64-59 over Northeast Academy on Saturday night.
But that gold ball represents more than a trophy, or a title, or a historic moment in a young school's history.
It's proof to every student who walks the halls at Centennial that hard work does pay off. And that similar success can be accomplished again with the same dedication.
In basketball, and in life.
“Our kids have to overcome so much,” Centennial coach Scott Raper said. “For them to overcome what they've overcome is phenomenal. Now, this gives everybody at the school something.
“These kids have worked two or three hours a day for five months, and the other kids can see it's not instant reward. Sometimes it's gonna take longer.”
When Raper took the job at Centennial when the school opened four years ago, he and assistant coach Michael Brewer laid out a plan to build their new team into a championship contender — a five-year plan.
“We're ahead of schedule, but that's OK,” Raper said with a laugh. “We have a good group of eighth-graders coming up, and hopefully this group has challenged those younger kids to where they can improve and understand what it takes to be successful.”
Buying into Raper's plan was the key for Centennial, which started the year at No. 12 in the preseason rankings.
“We practiced hard and just did everything we could possibly do,” said senior Tyrone Jones, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds in the title game. “Coach preached defense. At first we didn't stick with the plan, but then we got with it and we came out with the ‘W.'”
Marcus Johnson scored 25 points in Saturday's victory. He scored 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the game-turning third quarter that put the Bison ahead for good.
The championship game was much like Centennial's season — some good, some bad, but ultimately, the hard work led to victory.
“It's been an up-and-down roller coaster, really,” Johnson said. “We had some adversity, but we bounced back from adversity and played strong throughout the season.”
Jones can't imagine what it will be like walking into school as a state champion Monday, and he can't fathom what that gold ball will mean to his school.
“It means a lot to us, it means a lot to the school, it means a lot to everybody,” Jones said. “Oklahoma Centennial has only been open four years and we brought home a gold ball in the fourth year. That's gotta say something.”
Every kid who has ever played for Raper in his 12 seasons has been given a card that, among other bits of inspiration, has the phrase “Hard work plus patience equals success.”
He has always preached that to his players, and he always will.
“Success is not instant,” he said Saturday night, amid the glow of a state championship. “Success is long-term work. It's just amazing to see it come to fruition.”