Eight young basketball players from northern New Brunswick have proven it's possible to triumph over tragedy.
The Bathurst High School boys basketball team won the provincial AA championship Saturday, just 13 months after a horrible highway accident claimed the lives of seven players and the wife of the former coach.
A crowd of several hundred, many wearing Bathurst red, erupted in jubilation as the Phantoms beat the Campobello Vikings 82-50 at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton.
"These boys and their coaches have brought so much joy to Bathurst High School and our whole community," said John McLaughlin, superintendent of the Bathurst School District.
"Their spirit is amazing and it just speaks to the resiliency of youth."
Late on Jan. 12, 2008, the team was returning to Bathurst following a road game in Moncton, N.B., when their van veered into the path of a transport truck on a slush-covered highway.
The crash devastated the community and gripped the emotions of a nation.
Forward Bradd Arseneau, who survived the crash, scored 25 points during the final while wearing the No. 7 of his late friend Nathan Cleland.
Arseneau, who was named the game's most valuable player, declined interviews after the game.
His mother, Peggy O'Neil-Arseneau, was thrilled with the outcome.
"I've never seen him play any better," she said.
She said while the team made the decision to look to the future and concentrate on each game, her son's performance has honoured his fallen friends.
"He carries the spirit of those boys wherever we go. He has certainly told me that."
The crash put an end to the Phantoms season last year, but the program resumed in the fall and ran up an impressive record of 35-3, including 26 consecutive wins heading into the provincial championship.
The players suffered more heartache on Feb. 3 when head coach Alan Doucet collapsed during a practice and had to be rushed to hospital. He was in Montreal for tests Saturday while his team was winning the championship.
Assistant coach Brad McLellan said he was impressed with the energy of his players, and expected a much closer game.
"I didn't expect to get out in front quite like that early … Campobello is a hell of a team and they battled hard, but our kids were ready to play," he said.
Campobello coach Barry Calder said he told his players to remain focused during the game, but recognized there was a lot of emotion and crowd support for the Bathurst squad.
The crowd stood and cheered as the clock wound down over the final 30 seconds to the buzzer.
After the game, the Bathurst players spent a long time on the court, as if trying to savour the moment for as long as possible.
They cut down both nets before leaving for their dressing room.
"It's a huge deal, coming back from that accident," said forward Brad States. "Obviously, it's huge."
"It was amazing. After the accident we didn't think we were going to get this far but we did," said guard Alex Robichaud.
"We did the impossible, pretty much."