DALTON, Mass. -- All high school student-athletes, especially in a sports-mad town like Dalton, owe a debt those who came before.
On Saturday night, the boys on the Wahconah basketball team paid some back.
"The whole ceremony, I think it's really important to the entire town," senior Aiden Trager said of the pregame festivities before his team's season finale. "We just wanted to make everybody proud. We weren't really playing for ourselves tonight. We were playing for everybody who came before."
With the eyes of some of those predecessors upon them, the Wahconah boys finished the hoop story of Ed Ladley Gymnasium in style, beating one of the school's biggest rivals, Pittsfield, 49-40.
All four games on Saturday -- two varsity, two JV -- were preceded by ceremony and inspiring words from significant figures in the school's rich athletic history.
Using that as springboard, Wahconah opened the game on a 10-0 run to take a lead that it never relinquished.
"Coming out 10-0, that's just a great way to start," Trager said. "We had a lot of energy coming out. You've got to give credit to the guys on the bench, too. They were yelling the loudest out here, giving us what we needed."
Unlike so many games over so many years in Wahconah's gym, Saturday's needed all the noise the reserves could muster.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seating in the bleachers was limited to the handful of people who took part in the pregame ceremony. Ironically, they sat in what normally would have been the typically raucous student section.
One of those in attendance was Rose Ladley, the widow of the gym's namesake, who conducted the pregame coin toss.
That coin toss, instead of a jump ball, is one of the COVID-necessitated modifications that no one will miss next winter when Wahconah plays its games in its new high school.
The old gym? That will be a lot harder to say goodbye to.
"It was tough," Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher said of the emotions he felt during the pregame ceremony. "Coach Ladley meant an awful lot to me. He's a fixture, and his legacy still lives in our program. A lot of the same things he did, we continue to do.
"We ran one of his favorite plays to start the game tonight as kind of a silent honor."
Trager (team-high 10 points) scored the game's first points with a basket from the right wing and set up Brody Calvert (nine points) for a basket on Wahconah's next possession.
Another senior, Quinn Gallagher, capped the opening run with a 3-pointer to make it 10-0 at the 4 minute, 15 second mark of the quarter.
Pittsfield finally got an answer in the form of a 3-pointer from Sincere Mooore (game-high 26 points), but Wahconah scored the next five to take a 12-point lead early in the second quarter.
The lead got as high as 16 when Luke DiCicco (nine points) drained the second of his 3-pointers late in the half, and Wahconah kept the margin around double digits throughout the third quarter.
The Generals, though, started the fourth with a quick 5-0 spurt thanks to a Tobias Gaulden-Wheeler triple and a Moore drive to the basket to make it 36-32.
But from there, Wahconah's trapping defense turned up the heat, holding Pittsfield scoreless for more than three minutes and helping the lead get back to 43-32 when Calvert stole the ball and went the other way for a lay-up with 1:40 on the clock.
When that clock got under a minute and the margin was still comfortable, Belcher was able to get his seniors -- Gallagher, Trager and Nick Astore -- off the floor for a well-deserved round of applause.
"I can't be prouder of my seniors," Belcher said. "They really battled. This is an emotional day for all of us, and I'm just so happy for these kids. This is a great memory for them."