He may not have been there when it started, but Austin Walker did not want to be there when it stopped.
Walker and the rest of Bradenton Christian’s boys basketball team lengthened one of the area’s most impressive streaks Tuesday when the Panthers pelted Seffner Christian Academy to reach Saturday’s Region 2 championship game -- a tier BCS has reached every year since 2004.
“We wanted to keep the tradition going,” said Walker, a freshman who will try to lead BCS to three more Elite Eights before he graduates.
Really, that’s what prep sports is all about -- tradition.
And that’s why teams keep winning and streaks keep stretching, even though the boys and girls inside the uniforms and the men and women patrolling the sidelines may change.
Expectations remain static. Most importantly, however, is the pride that still festers in high school alums long after they have graduated.
They helped put those banners on the walls and they helped put their programs on the state radar. They are the ones who built something special, and the last thing they want is for it to end.
That’s why Walker and the young Panthers wanted to keep this going -- they have heard the stories and studied brackets of the past. They know the boys basketball team is riding a run that predates the school’s football team, one that has helped the Panthers reach four state semifinals since 2004.
The last thing anyone wants is for it stop on their watch, which is why Walker was able to take over Tuesday’s regional semifinal after Daniel Magley, a senior and the Panthers’ most veteran postseason player, walked to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with about three minutes left in the game.
The customary capacity crowd that has spent the last eight Februarys packing BCS’ gym grew louder as Walker sank jumper after jumper, realizing that, yes, another regional final was coming to the small school on 43rd Street.
Different cast of stars, same result. And the players knew it, too, how special the achievements of the ones that came before them were.
Such is the impetus to keep it going. It’s why Manatee wrestlers keep getting to the medal podium during the state tournament and why Southeast’s girls basketball team keeps winning district championships.
Their mission is simple -- keep it going and pass it on. And then it’s on to the next class and then the next one, tradition and pride passed like a baton at a track meet.
The Panthers’ streak will be alive and well Saturday night at BCS’ gym, just as it has so many times before.
It’s a tribute to the players -- and most importantly, to the ones who came before them, who can take pride in fact that what started hasn’t stopped.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2097.