The Graceland University Yellowjackets men’s basketball team closed out their week of national competition with a campus full of supporters to welcome them home to “the Hill” Wednesday. The team claimed the NAIA DI National Championship title the night before in front of a record tournament crowd.
The National Champions were provided a police and fire fighter escort as they entered the southern Iowa state line, leading the caravan the four miles north into Lamoni and to the campus where supporters from both the Graceland and Lamoni communities greeted them with music, cheers, signs and even some small fireworks.
The team’s national trophy may have provided the bling, but the audience was glowing with pride. Graceland President Patricia H. Draves, Athletic Director Brady McKillip, Head Coach Craig Doty and even Lamoni Mayor Doug Foster spoke of not only the team’s hard work and perseverance, but also of the community – the Graceland family – that came together to cheer them on through the end of the final game and beyond.
Several team members – Will Nelson, Justin Harley and Jeremy Deemer – echoed the sentiment and offered gratitude for their Graceland family. Deemer – affectionately called Mayor Deemer by many Graceland teammates and classmates – said, “Transferring to Graceland was the best decision I have ever made in my life.”
Harley, who made the game-winning 3-point shot, told the crowd, “there were times when we lost our leads – and we never get down on one another; we’re a family… but looking at you guys in that crowd and you cheering us on, that urged us and pushed us. And five games straight, and we won a national championship.”
The term “family” is not new in the Graceland vocabulary. Generations of alumni from all over the world have used the term to refer to the connections they make as students that last throughout their lives. And while the Graceland University Men’s Basketball family has been in the national spotlight, much of that light has been shining from far beyond the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City as thousands and thousands of Gracelanders came together in the spirit of their alma mater.