Legendary basketball program makes Columbia proud

COLUMBIA, Pa. - They call him "One Legend."

Bo Draper's game-winning layup with one second left on the clock in the regional final will be part of Crimson Tide lore forever.  That shot propelled Columbia into the PIAA Class AA State Championship in 1987, leading to the Tide's first and only state title.

But it all started back in 1917, when Columbia High School introduced interscholastic basketball.  And the town has been crazy about hoops ever since.

"The crowd was tremendous, everybody was there at the games," Draper remembers.  "We had a section called The Front Row, which was loud and rowdy."

Fans still regularly fill the gym in Columbia, which is named after Elmer Kreiser, a Tide basketball coach from the 1950's.

Kreiser was also the mentor for head coach Gary Sutton, who led Columbia during their most successful run in 1987.

That season didn't start very well for the Tide.  They didn't win the county title, and they didn't win the district title.  And before they could even think about states, first they had to get through the Eastern regional against Trinity.

Sutton vividly recalls the dramatic final moments of that game.

"Now it's three seconds left on the clock.  Our entire season is in the hands of Bo Draper, who shot 27% from the field and about 26% from the free throw line," said Sutton.  "Bo loses the ball for a second, regains it, goes back up and lays it in.  The place goes crazy."

With that win, the Crimson Tide advanced to the PIAA Class AA state championship.  And the whole town of Columbia was so excited about the game, they even tailgated in the parking lot at Hersheypark Arena.

After the Tide beat Windber for the program's first and only state title, coach Sutton dedicated the game to his mentor, Elmer Kreiser.

"I remember cutting down the net," said Sutton.  "I saw Mr. Kreiser sitting up there, and I kind of pointed to him.  This was for him."

The 1987 team even inspired its own song, performed by the players themselves, called the Columbia Proud Rap.

One thing Sutton always preached to his players was to "leave a place better than you found it."  Either literally, by cleaning up a locker room, for example.  Or figuratively, by just doing your best every night and creating a legacy for future generations.

At a recent centennial celebration in the school gym that featured over 150 former players and coaches, Sutton addressed the crowd and held up his state championship medal.

"I haven't pulled this thing out for 30 some years," admitted Sutton.  "This gold medal represents a moment in history.  I know it's the only one out of a hundred years."

Then pointing to all the former players sitting in the stands, he said "But you know what, every one of you has a part in this."

Make no mistake, they are Columbia Proud.