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'Viking Tough': Lanier chases first district title in 28 years

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The Lanier basketball team boasts a 3,000-point scorer and a 9-1 district mark as they chase something that hasn’t been done in 28 years. But at Lanier High School, nothing comes easy.

“Rundberg Lane is not the easiest place to grow up,” Lanier head basketball coach Joe Pendell said. “and you’re gonna need to be tough, particularly moving forward.”

Overlooked and outshadowed for years, the Vikings are navigating uncharted waters towards the school’s best season since the 1980s.

“Heart over height, we’re all small but we play our hearts out.” Senior guard Martez Barron said. “When we play bigger schools, with bigger names, taller people, we take that personal to show that we’re just the same as y’all, we could play on the same level.”

The Vikings tallest player stands just 6’5”. So to help instill that fortitude, coaches swiped a page from the University of Miami Football playbook after seeing the Hurricanes ‘turnover chain’ this Fall.

“I was talking to Coach Beaman and Coach Ortiz and I was like ‘that’s pretty cool man that turnover chain’” Pendell explained “We were talking about a wrestling chain, and we’re both Ric Flair fans, so we incorporate some of that with it.”

Turnover chain met WWE, and the “Viking Tough Belt” was created. It’s a simple idea to help build togetherness. After each Viking victory, the previous owner of the belt is tasked with selecting the toughest teammate to carry the belt until the team’s next win.

“Now I want the belt every week because you want to be the toughest player on the court and fight and compete.” senior guard Tajik Bartholomew said. “That’s what I like about this belt, everybody tries to compete to get it.”

With two games left in the regular season they’re competing for more hardware and the school’s first district title since 1990.

“We had the same goal since middle school coming into high school.” Barron said. “We all stuck together and it would be big knowing that we made history together.”

“People think of Lanier as a pushover, but we work hard every day to make everybody a believer.” Senior guard Davion Buster added.

It’s a self-belief the Vikings will carry with them far beyond Lanier High School.

“The number one thing for the kids throughout life is that grit or toughness to determine success.” Pendell said. “Are you going to be able to take the punches and move forward and that’s what we emphasize, so Viking Tough kind of defines our program.”

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