ACADEMY, Texas — There's a major buzz in eastern Bell County, as the Academy High Bumblebees prepare for their first regional semifinal appearance since 2002.
In 2002, the Bees went on to win the program's only state championship. Current Athletic Director Jared Hunt was an underclassman on that team.
"I still remember every night we stayed somewhere, every tournament, every trip we did," Hunt said. "So it's really just exciting to see the kids experience the things we experienced."
Hunt and the entire 2002 team were honored with a large team photo set up on a wall behind one of the baskets. High in the rafters, a banner recognizes their historic run.
"The guys look up to that," Academy Head Coach James Holt said. "They see that banner and want to put up their own banners in the rafters."
Hunt says there are plenty of connections between this team and the one that lifted a trophy in 2002. For starters, this group has played together since their days in youth basketball, where they were coached by the same man who led the Bees to that state title.
"It means a lot," senior guard Jaylin McWilliams said. "This is our last year and they did that their last year, so hopefully we can try to do the same thing."
But, this season has brought new challenges no one ever expected in 2002.
First, the Bees were hampered by COVID-mitigation efforts. Players say they have not been able to compete against their junior varsity team as a result.
Then, Academy was hit especially hard by February's ice storm, leaving several players without power for more than a week and unable to practice.
"It was really weird because you're active for months and then there's this week where you cant do anything," senior forward Tanner Rambeau said. "You can't get on the roads. You have no power to do anything."
Coming out of the break, the Bees were immediately forced to play in a playoff game against Teague. With no practice time, the Bees won 70-43.
In the next week, they would take down Scurry-Roser and Franklin to book their place in the regional semifinals.
The Bees take on New Waverly in Madisonville Friday night. Hunt said they sold out their allotment of 400 tickets by Tuesday morning.
"We know they're still supporting us," McWilliams said. A lot of people are watching on the live stream. They're sending messages. So, I feel like we still get the same support whether they are here or not."
The winner of Friday's game will play the winner of the other regional semifinal between East Chambers and Lorena, who is also making history with its deepest playoff run ever.