CHAFFEE, Mo. — If you want to take the measure of a small town, park yourself at a basketball game.
When I entered the back door of an unfamiliar school Thursday night, I had no inkling where the gymnasium was.
But I didn’t have to.
The sound took me there.
At first distant, the buzz grew as we walked past the empty classrooms, janitor pails and rows of lockers. A right turn, then a left, and my world opened up to an milieu I knew but hadn’t visited for decades.
I was home.
Times were, if you played basketball in Advance, Mo., you were as good as royalty. You molded your game in the summers and reaped the rewards in the winters. At least, that’s how the best ones did it.
The trophy case at Advance High School used to get stocked every year with the heaviest of hardware. Holiday tournament titles. County and Invitational championships. In the 1970s, the school made four consecutive state Final Fours, winning a pair of titles.
But it hasn’t approached that pattern of success since.
That didn’t matter to anyone Thursday.
Fans of every generation filled every seat. The game was tense. My cousin’s grandson, a deadly lefty, dropped 40 points. I yelled myself hoarse.
And everyone from Advance drove home winners, toting their first district title in eight years.