TANNER — Gathering around a couch, a group of teenagers watch with intrigue as Fred Rich delivers a knockout kick to Jace Haggermaker’s head.
Laughs fill the room — or at least from everyone except Haggermaker, who throws his PlayStation 3 controller into the air, not willing to accept defeat.
What, think the Tanner High basketball teammates actually were fighting?
Not in this tight-knit group’s locker room.
“That was the second time I beat him,” Rich said of the post-practice video game session of PS3’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.” “They can get pretty heated, but I usually win.”
So, Rich is Tanner’s best gamer?
“No. No. No,” Haggermaker said. “I won the first time, and he got mad and wanted a rematch.”
Whether playing video games or basketball, for the Rattlers, winning is a priority.
This group has gotten pretty good at collecting wins, too.
Tanner: Championship High. The billing fits.
Football. Basketball. Track and field. Since 2011, Tanner has won state titles in all three sports. Now the Rattlers are two wins away from adding another championship banner to the collection.
Third-ranked Tanner (24-4) plays Luverne (24-9) today in the Class 2A state semifinals. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
Tanner’s girls basketball team (15-16) plays No. 2-ranked ranked Prattville Christian (33-0) in the Class 2A state semifinals at 12:30 p.m.
“These games, right here, they’re what we’ve been working our whole careers for,” Haggermaker said. “Playing for, and winning, a championship is always the ultimate goal.”
Greg Maclin agreed.
“Our teams always believe we can compete at the highest level,” the senior guard said Friday following Tanner’s win against Hatton in the Class 2A Northwest Regional final.
“Winning is contagious, and we’ve gotten to the point where we’re contending for championships in every sport that all of us play. I think all of us would be disappointed with anything less than a state championship.”
Not many athletic programs can match the overall success Tanner’s boys athletic programs have enjoyed in recent years, and the Rattlers have a legitimate chance to accomplish something that hasn’t been done by a Decatur-area school since the mid-1980s: win state titles in three major sports in the same school year.
Tanner’s track and field title came in the 2011-12 school year.
Hazlewood was the last area school to accomplish the feat, with the 1985-86 Golden Bears winning state titles in football, basketball and track.
“We know that if we can pull it off, that we would be in elite company,” Rich said. “Winning one championship is hard, but to win one in three different sports? There aren’t many schools who can say they’ve done that.”
That Tanner’s athletic programs are contending for state titles in almost every sport isn’t surprising. The school’s grades 10-12 are rich with talented athletes — and an unrelenting competitive spirit.
This season, Tanner won the school’s first football state title. The Rattlers won both boys and girls basketball championships in 2011, and the boys track and field team closed out the 2012 school year with a Class 2A state title. Everyone on Tanner’s boys basketball program already has one state championship ring, and several have more than one.
Ten of the roster’s 12 players were on the football team. And then there are seniors like Rich and Maclin who already have three championship rings, and they could have five before their high school careers are complete.
“Getting five rings before I graduate has been a goal of mine since before football season started,” Rich said. “I don’t know where I would put all of them. Guess I could wear four on my fingers and one around my neck.”
Tanner is taking a talented team to Birmingham. Following the Class 2A Northwest Regional semifinals, Vincent coach John Hadder said the Rattlers’ starting five was the best his team faced, and the Yellow Jackets played several Class 5A and 6A teams in Shelby, Jefferson and St. Clair counties.
Size in the paint. Gifted leapers. Skilled shooters. Quality bench players.
The Rattlers have them all.
“Sometimes when I’m watching my teammates in practice or on film, I can’t believe some of the things they can do with a basketball,” Rich said. “It’s a fun team to play on.”
“There’s too much talent on this team for us not to have high expectations,” he said. “But what makes it all work is that we’ve got good coaching and great chemistry. We’re all very competitive — always wanting to one-up the next guy.
“When it all comes together, I feel like we can play with anybody. Now we’re going to take that into the big games (at the state tournament) and try to do what we’ve had our sights on since the very beginning: win a championship.”
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