As the Raiders sat in a Van Buren parking lot, killing a few minutes to avoid getting back into Poplar Bluff too soon, word of the celebration awaiting them spread through the bus.
Those who weren’t ready quickly fixed their hair and changed into Three Rivers colors. One Raider, in particular, walked up and down the bus, practicing their “getting off the bus” strut.
The first police escort vehicle met the team bus a few miles outside of Poplar Bluff. It pulled in front, turned on the flashing lights, and led the team at a leisurely pace.
A second police escort waited at the U.S. 67 off-ramp and followed behind the bus. Once in town, a firetruck joined the party, honking as the Raiders rolled the red lights on Westwood Boulevard.
“We had more cops behind us than I thought, and seeing all that, we really have a big support system behind us, and it’s bigger than what any of us could have imagined,” Ahniya Melton said.
Cars pulled over to the shoulder. Others honked in celebration as the bus rolled by, turning right on PP and eventually onto the Three Rivers campus.
“I honestly thought it was going to be like when we left. The cheerleaders and then our normal fans. A few people, nothing like this. Not balloons and speakers, none of that. It was definitely more than I expected,” Melton said.
After having their photos taken, Three Rivers President Dr. Wesley Payne paid his respects to the most successful team in program history.
Dr. Jayne Niskey, who sponsored coverage of the team’s run to the final four, followed in kind.
“To know that we still had some type of impact on this community and to know we still did a good job, it reassured us of how successful we were,” Melton said. “It’s tough to end your season on a loss, but we were reminded about everything we accomplished that has never been accomplished before.”
Eventually, it was the turn of coach Alex Wiggs, who earned Region XVI Coach of the Year in his first season as head coach.
“Make sure you guys enjoy this moment, enjoy this opportunity, and enjoy your accomplishments. Hold your head high because you’ve accomplished something that has never been done,” Wiggs said to the team before addressing the Raider faithful. “Thank you again to the best crowd in the country. We’ve had numerous reports on how awesome Three Rivers crowds are, how awesome our fans are, one may have called them crazy, but that’s OK ... They may be a little crazy, but that’s what makes them great.”
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic