Apr. 17—Moro Osumanu and his Reading High basketball teammates have experienced some pretty amazing moments over the past five weeks.
There was the District 3 Class 6A championship victory over Wilson, ending the rugged season-long, back-and-forth battle with their top rival and clinching a spot in the PIAA Tournament.
There were state playoff wins over Scranton and Upper St. Clair that propelled them toward the PIAA championship game.
And finally there was Joey Chapman's steal at the end of that game, an unforgettable moment that capped their 58-57 victory over previously unbeaten Archbishop Wood.
Saturday afternoon the Red Knights added another magic moment to their season as they took a victory lap around the city during a championship parade that started at the high school and ended at FirstEnergy Stadium, with police car and firetruck sirens blaring the whole way.
"It was an amazing moment," Osumanu, the Red Knights' senior center, said of the parade. "It was really exciting to see everybody outside to cheer for us; it was really fun to see the kids smiling, people saying thank you. It was really a special moment."
The players were chauffeured through the city on the beds of a long string of pickup trucks. They tossed candy to little kids who lined the streets and look up to them as role models.
"It was amazing, seeing them wait outside for us, being able to give them candy, seeing the excitement in them," said junior forward Xavier Davis. "Just giving a chance to share with the city to be happy.
"It feels like we're making a difference. It gives everybody hope; it gives the youth hope to keep going. It's just a really happy moment for everybody. To be able to share that is beyond great."
Rick Perez, the Red Knights' head coach for the past 10 seasons, feels sharing championship moments such as this is critical to the community and to the program he's built on a foundation of love and support.
"Seeing these young men being able to connect with their community, and through their hard work really inspire their community, that's what you take from the entire experience," said Perez after his second championship parade in four years.
"To be able to go down Schuylkill Avenue (where senior guard Rene Rodriguez lives) and see Rene's dad with a huge flag with his son on it, that's what this is all about," Perez said.
Red Knights fans were not allowed inside the Geigle to watch their team play this season because of COVID-19 concerns, and the school was issued only 650 tickets for the state title game at Giant Center in Hershey.
Saturday, hundreds of fans who weren't able to see the Red Knights play in person gathered along city streets for the parade and then later at the stadium to watch a replay of the game on the big video board in center field. As the final seconds ticked down, and Chapman stole the ball to secure the victory, the Reading High players — standing in a group along the first base line — raised their hands in celebration. Perez chest-bumped several of them, just as he did on the court at Giant Center.
Later, they cut down the nets one more time on a basketball hoop the Fightin Phils placed next to home plate, and held their championship trophy aloft for their fans to see one more time.
They were feted by local politicians, with State Sen. Judy Schwank telling them, "In a difficult year, you made a difference."
"What you guys did is give this city hope at a time when we needed it most," said State Rep. Manny Guzman of Reading.
What the Red Knights did most, assistant coach Matt Flowers reminded, was persevere. They overcame every obstacle imaginable.
"It seemed like a dream come true," sophomore guard Ruben Rodriguez said of winning the state title, then of taking part in the parade. "During the season I always knew we had the potential to win; now that it's actually come true, it feels amazing."