February 27, 2010 11:09:00 PM
REFORM, Ala. -- Friday afternoon was one time Russ Wallace didn''t mind seeing a police officer turn on his blue squad lights.
The Pickens County High School boys basketball coach and his team received a police escort home after winning the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A state championship Thursday night.
Pickens County won its first state championship in school history when it beat Houston County 88-86 in triple overtime at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in Birmingham, Ala.
Wallace and his players were just outside of Gordo, Ala., on Highway 82 when Reform''s chief of police greeted them and escorted them the remaining eight miles home.
The escort came as a total surprise to Wallace and his players.
"I had no idea about the escort," Wallace said. "I didn''t have any idea. I had an idea they were planning on doing something at the school when we got there, but I had no idea about the escort.
"I knew who it was becaiuse he pulled up beside us. He kind of waved and then floored it a little bit and got in front of us and turned the lights on. It was like. ''I guess he''s going to escort us into the school.'' The kids thought it was cool and I thought it was pretty cool."
Pickens County beat Houston County for its ninth-straight win and finish the season with a 27-2 record. The Tornadoes'' only losses were to Class 6A opponents Hillcrest and Paul Bryant.
Wallace and the players received a warm welcome in town and at school when they arrived home at 1:30 p.m.
"They spread the word around quick we were going to be there around 1:30 because there were several folks lined up on the main drag there," Wallace said. "The people were out clapping for us. They spread the word pretty quick."
The team''s final desitnation was the school gymnasium, where Wallace and the players were greeted by a pep rally.
"When they walked in the gym and all the people were in there and they were yelling and screaming and it got a little emotional," Wallace said. "We had some kids who had a tear or two come to their eyes. I held mine off, barely.
"We got in there and they had basically a 30- to 40-minute pep rally and then they let the kids get back to school"
The escort and pep rally were made possible when Pickens County rallied for an improbable victory against Houston County.
An escort and pep rally didn''t seem possible when Pickens County fell behind 86-81 with 15.8 seconds remaining. But the Tornadoes never gave up and scored seven unanswered points in the final 8.8 seconds to pull out the victory.
The team spent Thursday night at the Sheraton Hotel across the street from the BJCC and returned home Friday.
"I didn''t sleep," Wallace said. "We left about 10 o''clock and took the kids to Dreamland BBQ and fed them a bunch of ribs and barbecue sandwiches. We got on the bus and headed to school and we got to school and they were all there waiting on us. It was a pretty neat day."
It was a day Wallace and his players will never forget.
"The kids really enjoyed the day," Wallace said. "The community really stepped out and showed they cared and that they were proud of them and proud of what they accomplished. It was a good day for Reform.
"It was a pretty big day. There was a lot of excitement. There were a lot of excited folks. There were a lot of folks waiting a long time for Pickens County High School to win a state championship in something and we finally did it."
Wallace said people in the community are so excited that it could be days before the celebrating ends.
"I''ve already had four or five different people call me and say they were going to feed the kids," Wallace said. "There are a lot of people stepping out and really supporting us."