NORFOLK — It was pandemonium in Lincoln. The final seconds were ticking off the clock in Pinnacle Bank Arena and the Norfolk Panthers were set to win their first boys state basketball championship since 1987.
Faces in the crowd were screaming, high fiving, and moving to the beat of ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain. Ben Ries, the architect of the foundation of the 2017 Norfolk team, smiled and gave a thumbs up. Then it was back to work.
“I just also remember talking to our students and our administrative team about making sure we’re classy, and win this the right way, and be respectful of our opponents,” Ries said.
Ries, the Norfolk High Activities Director, did crowd control and congratulated the coaches right after the win. If this were one year earlier, he would have been hugging players and handing out medals as the team’s head coach.
But Ries stepped back from basketball after the 2016 season, despite having a group of seven seniors returning on his roster.
“It was challenging to leave that group behind because I knew how talented they were, but I also had to measure that against this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very much,” Ries said. “And as much as I love basketball, I love Norfolk High School just as much.”
And that love for the school was evident as he was quick to point out the efforts of the cheerleaders, dance team and student section. So it wasn’t a bittersweet moment on Saturday. In fact, it was a reflective one.
“I had a chance to just reflect and think about what a great road it was for our program over the last 14 or 15 years,” Ries said. “It was really gratifying for me to just watch the whole big picture of everything that had come together in those last few moments.”
He was also quick to highlight the advantage provided by his successor, Tony Siske’s, calm and confident demeanor. And Siske’s humble nature was on display when talking to media postgame.
“Coach Ries has done a great job building the Panther program and this is a result of his hard work,” Siske said in the postgame press conference.
So while Siske and the players faced the cameras, the man who put the pieces in place for a championship run, was off celebrating with his family.
“It’s tough for coaches and administrators because we’re highly invested in what’s happening with our school and our respective programs that when you get those opportunities to see your kids and family it’s really gratifying,” Ries said.