Inspired by High School Team, Thunder Rewards Community Service with Game Experience

Photo by J.P. Wilson
The booming of Thunder mascot Rumble’s massive drum reverberated throughout the gym and the intro music that typically greets the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena was blasting out of the speakers, but it wasn’t a Thunder player's name being called out by the Thunder’s PA announcer Jim Miller.

On Tuesday night, the Santa Fe South High School girls’ basketball team was rewarded with the “Thunder Experience” for their home game against ASTEC Charter High School because they won the 2010-2011 High School Basketball Community Challenge. Over the summer, the team donated their time and energy to engage in community service projects at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the Redbud Classic Run and the Arthritis Foundation Walk.

“It’s a payout for all of going and serving when they didn’t have to,” Head Coach Danny Boyd said. “Getting out of bed on mornings when they could have stayed in bed. They could have gone out with their friends and gone out to movies and done lots of other things. They went out and chose to serve.”

From Rumble, the Thunder Girls, and the Storm Chasers to the Dunk Team and DJ Boom, the Lady Saints were treated to the full Thunder arena experience for their 36-24 victory over ASTEC. Rumble and the Dunk Team performed their aerial assaults at halftime, the Thunder Girls danced to “Party Rock” and the Storm Chasers pumped up the crowd. It was an electric environment that is nearly unheard of outside of Chesapeake Energy Arena, let alone in a high school gymnasium.

“We came to them to Thunder-ize their high school game,” Thunder Director of Events and Entertainment John Leach said. “Basically, we ran it like we would a Thunder game. Obviously it’s not the same gym as the Chesapeake Energy Arena, but we bring all of our entertainers here, we bring the same excitement.”

The beginning of the Lady Saints’ game was a physical, defensive battle, Santa Fe South went into halftime with a 14-10 lead. After halftime, however, players like Alejandra Martinez and Taran Harjo led Santa Fe South on a 16-4 run that put the game out of reach for the Comets of ASTEC High School. Martinez, with a barrage of outside jump shots, finished with 18 points while Harjo, a sophomore, worked in the post for 10 points.

“It was awesome, at first I was nervous but happy at the same time,” the senior Martinez said. “I loved the crowd cheering for us and all the help from the Thunder.”

Martinez said her team bonded over the summer through their community service projects, and it showed on and off the court as they gave each other high fives after each free throw, make or miss, and helped one another up off the floor in very Thunder-like fashion. With the Thunder crew in attendance and the loud environment the Lady Saints and their cheerleaders said they were a bit nervous at first, but they all warmed up quickly and felt honored to be a part of the experience. Cheerleader Brooklyn Longan commented on the impact the night had on the Santa Fe South community.

“I’m really proud because most people look at us and are like, ‘Oh they’re nothing,’” Longan said. “Then we do something like this and we beat both the teams that we play, it’s kind of cool.”

The night got off to a good start even before the Thunder crew started their show, as the boys’ basketball team won their game over ASTEC 56-51. As a result, the home crowd was already juiced up, and it made boys basketball players like Xavier Woodrow even more excited to stay and support the Lady Saints. Woodrow was appreciative and respected the effort that his classmates put in to deserve recognition for their community service.

“I was really proud to see our girls go out into the community and put so much work into it and actually win it so we could have all this for the kids,” Woodrow said.

According to Coach Boyd, his team is still hungry to do more in the community, particularly after seeing how hard work can be rewarded. Before each service event even comes to an end these days, he said, the girls are asking him when the next one will be.

“Something has started here, and it hasn’t stopped yet,” Boyd said.