Sunday March 17, 2013

WORCESTER -- Lee girls basketball fans weren't afraid to march into enemy territory this week to make sure their team could hear them.

Many Wildcat supporters abandoned their assigned side of the DCU Center court in the state semifinals to sit behind the bench and offer encouragement, right next to opposing fans from Main South on Monday. After some encouragement from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, those same fans sat on their assigned side, across from the Lee bench, Saturday during the Wildcats' 60-33 Division III state final loss to Archbishop Williams.

"We're not going to be disrespectful to their fans or their team," said Jane LePrevost. "We just want to support our girls. It just makes a connection [being behind the bench]. ... I guess in the big ball of wax it doesn't really matter. It's just, you're closer."

LePrevost and her neighbors provided all the encouragement they could in Lee's third trip to the state final in four years. A Wildcat paw painted on her cheek, LePrevost -- whose son, Jake, played for the Lee boys this year and daughter Nicole is a Wildcat alum -- helped lead the fervent crowd.

Few towns can match Lee's love for its Wildcats.

"It goes back to the youth programs," said Mike Dooley, father of Lee guard Eileen Dooley. "Kids get involved young. Parents get involved and it just continues."

Even those without kids on the court were happy to make the drive. Billy Loehr was in the stand near Dooley on Saturday after helping organize banners around Lee's downtown for the players. The massive, square sheets caught the eye as drivers made their way to the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Loehr said the idea caught on after the Gridiron Club did the same thing when the football team reached a Western Mass. Super Bowl last year.

"It's community," Loehr said. "It's a close town. Everybody knows everybody. There's probably just as many people here that don't have kids on the team. They just love high school athletics."

And they've loved Wildcat players during a more than two-decade run of success, including seven state titles. But LePrevost said it's not just the winning that draws the crowd -- although it certainly helps. The support is always there, whether on the town's streets or in full throat from across an arena.

"I think it's important to the girls to know the town supports them," LePrevost said. "They do. It doesn't matter what year, how well they've done, the town, the businesses in town, the people in town are truly amazing."