Special honors for unexpected state champions

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by LORI MATSUKAWA / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 29, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 29 at 7:49 PM

SEATTLE - It's not every day you get invited to Seattle City Hall to hear a proclamation read in your honor. But that's exactly what happened to the Cleveland High School girls' basketball team. The Cinderella story is this: Cleveland girls were unranked at the end of the season, yet beat top ranked Holy Names 47-44 to win the State 3-A Championship on March 13.

It's the first girl's championship in the school's history and represents a turning point for one of Seattle's most academically and socially challenged campuses.

"The school is totally excited and proud,' said second year coach Stephenie Wheeler-Smith. "I've received letters from alumni, Class of 1959, I mean years and years of history in this city and everyone is really proud."

Wheeler-Smith said the girls had to overcome many challenges, including Injuries, family difficulties, academic issues and just learning to trust and depend on one another. "Just raising the level of expectation for not only themselves individually but their teammates."

During the ceremony in the Seattle City Council Chambers, Councilman Bruce Harrell, a 1976 Cleveland alumnus, said it was one of the most exciting championship games he'd ever seen and said, "You continued to believe in yourself and that's what a great coach does and that's what great players do."

Seattle Police Detective Denise "Cookie" Bouldin used to walk the halls of Cleveland when it was a troubled school. She said the girls' team avoided trouble. "They didn't hang out. They did what they knew they had to do to accomplish their goals."

The Seattle City Council has declared April 5 as Cleveland High School Day.

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