The Panthers boys basketball players received their championship rings during an awards ceremony held Wednesday night at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
The players also received mini-basketballs with their names etched into the design and designating their 28-1 winning season.
“Finally, felt good to have the rings on our fingers,” coach Julian Stokes said. “We waited almost three months now for them to come in and, now that they are here, I never want to take it off.”
Stokes said the rings were funded by donations from the community and from fundraisers.
The Class AAAA state title marked a first for Panther Nation. Now, the coach said, the stakes are higher for the upcoming season when the schools will play in Region 2-AAA, which includes Appling, Brantley, Long, Pierce and Tattnall counties.
Stokes said the teams in that region are competitive and the tentative 2016-17 schedule is much tougher than this past season’s.
Among the Panthers’ newest region rivals, Long County posted a 20-8 record this past season and is likely to be a formidable rival for a shot in the region and state playoffs.
The Panthers will not have seniors Martial Washington, Tyriq Reece, Jishaun Harris and Comer Kite next year, but anticipate the return of their three veterans, Will Richardson, five-star recruit and Auburn commit Davion Mitchell and Richard LeCounte.
A good percentage of the reserve players, Jaalon Frazier, Tyreon Freeman, Antonio Golden, Cherell Roberts, Tyler Thomas and Tracy White, are also expected to return next year.
Stokes said he has a busy summer planned for the team.
“We will be participating in four team camps throughout the month of June,” he said, adding that the current renovation of the Panthers’ gym is going to throw a wrench in summer conditioning. “We most likely will be holding those tasks at Midway Middle School, but we highly encourage all of our basketball athletes to get in the weight room this summer.”
As a team, the Panthers averaged 78.4 points per game, made 926 rebounds, 509 assists, 320 steals, 113 blocks and shot 447 of 696 from the line.
After the ring ceremony, other team awards were announced:
JV MVP — Arieus Taylor,
JV Academic Award — Nicholas Roberts
Varsity Offensive Award — Richard LeCounte
Varsity Defensive Award — Will Richardson
Varsity Academic Award — Jishaun Harris
Golden Panther Award — Jaalon Frazier
Varsity Team MVP — Davion Mitchell