Richmond Heights is Bristol foe in regional

John King stepped foot in the home locker room at the Canton Fieldhouse. The then Bristol High School senior started to look around and imagine what if?

King walked on the hallowed floor of the Canton City Schools venue, located within earshot of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

King was enamored with former Canton McKinley High School standout Eric Snow, who played for the Bulldogs more than a decade earlier in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Snow, at the time, played for the one of the best in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I was envisioning I was sharing his locker,” King said. “I doubt it really was his locker.”

There’s no doubt what those Bristol Panthers meant to him and the Bristolville community in 2002, a place in the Division IV state final four.

He was a senior that season and the Panthers were working their way through the Division IV Canton Regional. First, it was a 14-point win against Sebring, and then a six-point victory over Strasburg-Franklin in a regional final.

King, who is the Bristol girls basketball coach, wasn’t enthralled with just the trip to Canton. These Panthers were the No. 3-ranked team in the state. They wanted much more.

“When you show up there you’re playing to win, not just be happy you’re there,” King said “I think you’ll have a lot better memories if you’re competing, giving everything you’ve got and leave it all out on the floor.

“It’s a basketball game. In the end, the memories you make with your friends stick with you, the impressions you make on people in the community.”

This year’s Bristol team finished the regular season ranked sixth in the state and is 21-4 heading into tonight’s Division IV regional semifinal matchup with Richmond Heights (19-6), this year’s Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division champion with a 14-0 record.

The Spartans’ losses were to Gahanna Lincoln, Lorain, Lutheran East, Cleveland Benedictine, Toledo Whitmer and a one-point setback against Shaker Heights.

“We’re going into every game to win,” said Bristol boys coach Craig Giesy, who played on the schools 2002 and ’03 regional teams. “I think a lot of people are going to look at both teams and think, ‘do we have a chance?’

“They fight. They play hard. It’s not pretty all the time, but I know we’re gong to get the best effort from our guys.”

This year’s Bristol team starts their journey to Canton on a charter bus around 3 p.m., and will have a light pregame meal in Canton before meeting Richmond Heights at 6:15 p.m.

Giesy is trying to get a walkthrough in the Fieldhouse as early as possible to absorb the atmosphere and get comfortable in the historic venue. He cannot wait until the Bristol fans follow and start filling the seats.

Giesy remembers when he was 9 years old and followed the state-bound 1994 Bristol team through the Canton Regional. That atmosphere left an indelible mark, watching teams like Chalker advance there years later.

He’s gone with a group, being an ardent watcher of these Division IV regional moments.

“It is the best place to be in, best place to watch a game,” Giesy said. “It’s a long time since I got to be on that floor. I imagine it’s going to be similar to what it’s going to be when I was in high school.”

He fondly remembers that regional final in 2002 where they played a similar small-school team in Strasburg. The orange of the Tigers and the yellow of the Panthers were the dominant colors flowing inside the Canton Fieldhouse that evening.

“It was orange on one half and yellow on the other half. There was about 4,000 people in there and it was packed, hot, loud,” Giesy said. “It was a lot of fun to play in.”

It’s part of that regional experience.