Los Angeles Lakers’ former players and fans were relieved this past Wednesday to see the Miami Heat fall short of surpassing their team’s 42-year-old National Basketball Association record of 33 consecutive victories.
Over in St. Matthews, the Heat’s pursuit of history conjured up proud memories of a similar winning streak which lasted three times as long and shattered the old S.C. High School League record which stood for 48 years.
From Dec. 28, 2005 to Dec. 15, 2008, the Calhoun County High School boys’ basketball team won 81 consecutive games. In breaking the previous mark of 65 set by Hannah High School from 1957-60, the Saints defeated over 40 different programs in classifications ranging from Class A to as high as Class 5-A in three different states and in the process claimed three consecutive state championships and two Holiday tournaments titles.
While Calhoun County’s “March to History” did not garner the national attention which enveloped Miami, head coach Zam Fredrick could empathize with the same pitfalls and challenges faced each time his team entered a gymnasium.
“I sympathize and identify what was happening with (the Heat),” said Fredrick, who was drafted by the Lakers out of the University of South Carolina. “I kept hearing the comments from LeBron (James) and Dwayne Wade about not really thinking about it and actually, I believe they were telling the truth about it because that is an honest assessment. When you’re playing like that and you’re playing at that level, basically you’re trying to keep the games played at one at a time and trying to do the best you can from one quarter to the next.”
“While it’s going on, you try not to think about it because it just adds more pressure to it. You just realize that when you hit the floor that the other teams are going to give you their best shot night in and night out and you’ve got to match that intensity and even try to raise it one in order to keep the streak going.”
Much like Miami, the top-ranked Saints were a target every time they hit the floor. A starting lineup led by future NFL wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Calhoun County finished the 2005-06 season with 21 straight victories to claim the state title.
All but three of those wins were by double digits, including a 137-21 defeat of Fox Creek. The dominant play continued the following season when the Saints, with Claflin point guard David Glover in the starting lineup, posted their first perfect record in school history.
It was following the 75-48 win over Baptist Hill in the 2007 Class A title game that Fredrick first began to hear talk about “The Streak”.
“After winning the second state championship…it was at that point where everything started to, like after the season is over you start thinking about it and it was (49 games) in a row and you’ve really got a really good squad coming back again, you might have something good going here. I didn’t even know what the state record was at the time. It wasn’t until we started getting closer and it was mentioned that Great Falls had a similar streak (55 games). But it wasn’t until after the second championship that we realized that it was really going to be something special.”
A 79-62 win over Estill (the team which eventually ended the Saints’ winning streak) on Dec. 21, 2007 propelled Calhoun County past Great Falls for the modern era mark. All that stood in the way from the Saints from achieving history was the Orangeburg County Sweet 16 tournament and a return trip to Jacksonville, Fla. for the Martin Luther King Classic.
After three straight wins to final the Sweet 16 final, Calhoun County found themselves trailing at halftime by eight points to then Class A second-ranked Scott’s Branch. The same night the New England Patriots rallied to finish the regular season 16-0, the Saints stormed back for a 56-53 victory to extend the streak to 60.
“During the game, you don’t think about (the streak),” Fredrick said. “The situation with Scott’s Branch at Orangeburg-Wilkinson (High School)…our thing was that’s Scott’s Branch. That’s somebody we may have to face again and stuff. We’ve got to make sure we take care of this one.
“While we were playing the game, we didn’t think about it. It might cross your mind before the game. It crossed your mind after the game because it might get talked about quite a bit. But during the course of the battle, it’s about we’ve got to take care of this. We certainly didn’t want to lose in the tournament. It was the first time we’ve been there in a while. We had to take care of it.”
The Saints won four more games prior to making the trip to Florida. Despite some trepidation from supporters, Calhoun County swept the two games over W.L. Raines and Andrew Jackson to tie the mark.
The record-setting win at Fox Creek was somewhat anti-climactic as the Saints coasted to another one-sided victory. There was still history to be made for Calhoun County as they edged Hemingway 67-66 in the Class A final to make Fredrick the first S.C. High School League boys’ basketball coach with seven state titles.
In retrospect, keeping the team focused on the championships made it easier for the Saints not to fall victim to the distractions of “The Streak”. It still did not prevent Fredrick from taking extra measures of his own.
“I tried to lead by example where I was concerned because I did realize all the attention it was getting,” he said. “Even right here in St. Matthews and the Orangeburg area there was a lot of talk about it and I’m sure their friends and from some of their opponents when they were out on the street, they heard quite a bit about it. So what I tried to do, I didn’t talk about it at all. When we were at practice, it never came up. Before the game, we refused to talk about it. So my thing was always who we’re playing tonight, what we need to do to win the game, win any game.”
For such an achievement, there’s currently no commemoration at the school. The S.C. High School League’s record-keeping book “Palmetto Finish” omits the last three victories and even Fredrick acknowledges “The Streak” does not rank as his top coaching accomplishment.
“That is right under the eight championships,” he said. “We play the game to win. You play the game to win and the championship is the ultimate indicator of that. It shows the commitment of your teams. The 81 games in a row I’d put it under it because of the fact you can win championships and still not win 81 games in a row and my thing is, when you set out for the season, you’re not thinking about winning how many consecutive games…You’re thinking about putting yourself in position to win a state championship and I’m very proud of the fact that we did that and did it as many times that we did.”
Nonetheless, he believes more should be done to commemorate his team’s accomplishment which he believes could last longer than the previous mark. For Fredrick’s part, he hopes to have a banner in place in the gym before next season in recognition of “The Streak”.
“Even if it wasn’t me, the fact that somebody was able to put together 81 games in a row and you look in the fine print and show all of the different teams and places these folks played, if you’re a real basketball fan, you can’t help but appreciate what that was and what happened during that time and understand that was truly something special and may not see again.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 533-5547. Follow Grant on Twitter@TandDSports.