Everybody knows about the Lebanon Valley College men’s basketball team’s magical run to the NCAA Division Three national championship in 1993-94. It’s one of the greatest tales in the history of Lebanon County athletics.
But what most folks don’t know is the back stories, what went on behind the scenes, the events that propelled the Flying Dutchmen to previously unimaginable heights. They don’t know about the personal stories of the young men and coaches who lived it and made it all happen.
LVC is preparing to release a 77-minute documentary chronicling the men’s basketball team’s incredible journey to the national title simply titled “The Dutchmen.” Its release is intended to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the unprecedented achievement.
“Anybody 40 and over who lived there knows we won the national championship,” said Jason Say, a key member of the title team and the driving force behind the documentary. “Everyone knows the story above the water. In the documentary, people get to see the stuff below the water. It’s going to be the first time they hear that story. People want to cheer for the guy who goes through things.”
“That’s a national title. It’s not a local championship,” said Pat Flannery, who coached the Flying Dutchmen to the crown. “There were stories of the families. I’ve been around sports for a long time, and I’ve never been around families who were so supportive. Look at where those kids are from. The back story is that those kids just got better and better, and you had a leader like (point guard Mike) Rhoades. We found the pieces and the pieces just got better as the season went along.”
“The Dutchmen” will be unveiled to the community at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at Miller Chapel on the Annville campus, during LVC’s annual homecoming weekend. The screening is open to the public and tickets can be purchased online.
The documentary could be released through a streaming service at a later date.
“As we get older, we’re starting to lose some people,” said Say. “My motive for the documentary is somewhat selfish. I wanted to have it for my teammates. I wanted us to have it for the rest of our lives. It’s been 30 years and we’re still talking about it, and nothing bigger has ever happened at Lebanon Valley College.
“The college is paying for it and the college has a different goal for it than me,” he continued. “The college wants to show it to incoming freshmen. For the college, it’s a recruitment tool. I think it accomplishes everything for everybody.”
“It’s a sports story that everybody should hear,” said Flannery. “I was only a part of it. It shows what can happen if you come together and play together. There were so many heroes. It was their turn. It was the next person up. I don’t think we ever said, ‘We’re going to win a national championship.’”
“The Dutchmen” is built around 17 interviews – of six players, two coaches, Lebanon Valley College professors and community members. The documentary is held together by newspaper clippings, old game film and still photos.
“We knew we were going to be good, and we all knew Mike (Rhoades) was that special kind of player,” said Say. “In the documentary we talk about the community and how supportive the community was. We played in packed gymnasiums. We talk about what it meant and what it meant to the school.”
“The thing for me, it’s just been so much fun to rekindle the friendships,” said Flannery. “Some of these folks were the neatest people you’ll ever meet. I keep calling them kids. But they correct me, ‘Hey Coach, I’m going to be 50.’ I wasn’t that much older than them.”
“The Dutchmen” was produced by Okiejoke Media and Say’s hometown friend Garrett Heath, himself a one-time hooper. It was a story begging to be told.
“Actually, Garrett approached me and said, ‘Did you ever think about doing this as a documentary?’” said Say. “’Do you know what a really cool story it its?’ I said, ‘I’d love to do that story.’ One thing led to another. The college was in and we started production.”
“That was our fifth year there,” said Flannery. “We built the program the right way, but whoever dreams of winning a national championship? I thought we were pretty darn capable. But to culminate it like we did, it showed the blueprint worked out pretty darn well.”
Sure, winning a national championship was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But for Say and Flannery, it was also a life-changing experience.
“After that, I literally had this feeling like I could do anything I set my mind to,” said Say. “We did things people said we couldn’t do. For me, on a personal level, it gave me the confidence, and it took it to another level. We were just a bunch of guys who hated to lose. Those guys were my best friends. To this day, I love those guys. It’s something you’ll never, ever take away.”
“I never wanted to leave Lebanon Valley,” said Flannery, who left the following season to take the head coaching position at Bucknell. “If Bucknell hadn’t opened, I don’t know where I would’ve gone. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It bothered me for months. When I didn’t feel like I let them (his players) down was when they came to a Bucknell game. That’s why I think I’m still close with these guys today.”
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