‘Lady Warrior Day’ In Words And Pictures

Tiana Joy Jackson takes a selfie with a group of MacAfee Road School students during the May 2 “Tour of Champions.”

May 2 was “Lady Warrior Day” in the school district, in honor of the historic state championship won by the Franklin High School girls’ basketball team, and what a day it was.

Highlighting the celebration was a “Tour of Champions” of the district’s seven elementary schools and a special dinner to honor the team’s historic 34-0 season.

The day began around 9 a.m., when the team bordered a luxury bus – donated by Raritan Valley Bus Service – at the high school, cheered on by hundreds of their schoolmates, including the FHS JROTC and the marching band. The bus took a tour around the campus so students could cheer for the state champions before heading out to Hillcrest Elementary School, the “tour’s” first stop.

A group of students greeted the team at the school’s entrance, and the rest of the student body lined the school’s hallways, cheering and chanting and reaching out for “high fives” as team members and coaching staff passed by.

From there, the girls were taken to Conerly Road School, MacAfee Road School, Pine Grove Manor School, Franklin Park School, Claremont Road School and Elizabeth Avenue School – escorted by members of the Elizabeth Avenue Volunteer Fire Co. – where the scene was repeated.

Some students made signs for the girls, others wrote them letters, all with the theme of “congratulations.”

The team members also took time to pose for pictures with the students at each school.

Arrangements for the tour were spearheaded by Bill Grippo, principal of MacAfee Road School. Grippo credited Donna Stallings of the district’s transportation department with getting the bus donation.

Later in the day, a celebratory dinner was held at the Fair Bridge Hotel and Conference Center on Davidson Avenue. Highlighting the dinner were comments by Lady Warriors Head Coach Audrey Taylor, who talked about the journey taken by the team in its historic season.

Also speaking were Grippo, state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, Somerset County Freeholder Shanel Robinson, Superintendent of Schools John Ravally, Board of Education president Nancy LaCorte, district Athletic Director Ken Margolin, and Lady Warrior Tiana Joy Jackson. The evening’s M.C. was Walter Jackson, Tiana’s father.

The morning’s tour was “phenomenal,” Taylor said.

“I have been here nine years, and I don’t know how the kids felt about it, but for me, to see the community and see how many kids and see the excitement and the joy and the smiles, that to me was just so fulfilling,” she said. “To see the Franklin community appreciated everything that these girls have done and the excitement they brought to the community.”

“There was one particular hallway, they were just so loud it was like we were at a game,” Taylor said. “It was amazing. It was an amazing opportunity for the girls and especially for me. I don’t get to see all that, I go to the gym and I leave the gym and I go home, so I don’t really get to embrace everything that the community has to offer, and this is an amazing, amazing community.”

“You guys should be proud of what you have here, I’m very proud to be a part of that,” she said.

At one point, Taylor had the team come up to the podium and face her.

“I haven’t had the opportunity since we did what we did to tell you, thank you,” she told them. “Thank you for being you, nothing more, nothing less. I wouldn’t want more, I wouldn’t want less. I’m saying that because you guys are amazing. You’re amazing people, you have amazing hearts and you will forever be burned into my brain and my heart.”

“Those who are coming back, we’ve got work to do,” she said. “Those who are leaving us, we will miss you, tremendously. I mean tremendously. I already miss you.”

“The key thing I want you to remember is to continue to be yourselves,” she said. “Don’t let anybody persuade you to be something different. Be your heart, be true to who you are, be confident young ladies. Walk with your head high.”

“It has nothing to do with winning. I don’t care, you know me, we’re 34-0, yay,” Taylor said. “We’re moving on because there’s bigger things that you guys have to offer. I want you to continue to be the positive role models you have been.”

Taylor was also named the national Girls Basketball Coach of the Year by USA Today. Taylor said she still had difficulty putting into words how honored she was.

“I’m proud of the way I did it, and I’m proud of my staff and how they supported it,” she said. “I’ll never forget these girls because of that. That award will always put a picture of them with me.”

Taylor also thanked the players’ parents and her coaching staff, as well as the administration, school board and Booster Club.

Ravally also thanked the team, who he called “awesome.”

“A perfect season, a state-record perfect season is just amazing,” he said. “Not only do I congratulate you, I thank you, I thank you for being such good ambassadors for our school district. You really do represent what we want others in our school district to emulate. You really are Franklin Warriors. You are the model that we want all of our kids to emulate. So I thank you for what you do every day, and you may not even realize that you’re doing it. But walking those halls today really made a difference, not only for our school district, but for thousands of kids who had the opportunity to meet you.”

“You guys on the court, you’re team players, you’re selfless, you love each other, these are all things that I got to witness as I watched you play,” he said. “And most important, you had a commitment to your team that is far above your commitment to yourself. And those are the kinds of skills that will carry you far in life, and those are the kinds of skills that we work every day trying to impart upon thousands of kids that we work with. What you did today was provide an example of what those skills will do for us. Thank you for being you, and thank you for doing what you do, because I know that I appreciate and all of those kids who got a chance to shake your hands appreciate it as well.”

LaCorte told the team, about the proclamation honoring them passed earlier in teh week by the school board. She also told them that they had instilled in her a love for basketball.

“And when we see you at events and how much people just look up to you and what great leaders you are, it makes us so proud and makes what we do worth it,” she said. “Thank you for being the best representatives and for being the wonderful women that you are.”

Danielsen told the team that they have a responsibility to pave the way for future generations.

“If you look at the story of Harriet Tubman, it wasn’t remarkable that she took people from the south, brought them north and got them free, what was remarkable was that she did it again, and again and again,” he said. “That’s what’s remarkable.”

“With great power is great responsibility,” Danielsen said. “You have responsibility to continue being great. Be great again. And when you’re great enough, you turn around and help somebody else be great, like your coach did, like your teachers did, like your mother did, like your grandmother did. You have a responsibility.”

“You have to study, you have to be healthy and you have to keep doing it,” he said. “And never, ever stop being thankful.”

Robinson commended the team and their parents for what they accomplished.

“Do not take it lightly,” she said of their record. “What you have done is beyond measurement or beyond yourself. You represent not only your family, your school, but also your community.”

Margolin said he finally understood the legacy of Franklin athletics when he heard about the reaction to the girls during their tour earlier that day.

“When I listen to the alums speak about what has been accomplished athletically in this town, I hear about the teams of the 80s and the teams of the 90s and the legacy that they’ve left … I didn’t get it until today, when I didn’t get on the bus,” he said. “I missed a tremendous opportunity. I saw the video and I saw how great it was. What I realized ladies, and I don’t think you realize this, is those legacies of the 80s and the 90s, you, with this program and this staff, these parents over the last six, seven years, have created a legacy that hasn’t been seen in Franklin over the last 20 years. It really hit me and now I get it.”

Tiana Jackson said seeing teh reactions of the elementary school students was “just amazing.”

“These little kids are yelling and screaming and saying our names and they have these pictures and drawings with our names on them,” she said. “And you’re sitting there and you’re like, wow. To see that we could do that and to see that we had such a big impact on our community is just amazing. And to see how we have so many people supporting us and back us up.”

“We just really appreciate everything you guys have done for us,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, we could not do what we do without you.”

Grippo said he didn’t know whether to smile or cry when he saw the students’ reactions to teh team.

“Forty two years in Franklin Township, I’ve done hundreds of events, worked with thousands of volunteers and we had thousands of kids today with their eye on a new future,” he said. “We had thousands of kids, not hundreds, begging to reach out to these girls. Just like rock stars, you were rock stars today.”

“You moved kids,” Grippo told the girls. “I’ve been a principal for many years and worked with kids for many years, and they need role models. Some of those girls who saw you today, they have their eye on a new future. It was great to see the littlest kids from Pre-School to 5th Grade, could not get close enough to touch you.”

“It was really a very, very special day,” Grippo said.

Also working on the dinner were Marisa Gallagher, Catina Jackson, Walter Jackson, Adreana Miller, Eric Osman, Helene Osman and Shavona Schenck.

Here are some scenes from the Tour of Champions and the dinner:

2019 Lady Warriors Tour of Champions


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