Minutes after advancing to the first state championship game in program history, the six rotation players from the Northeast girls’ basketball team threatened not to play in Saturday’s Class 6A final.
At issue is Northeast coach Zach Gillion and his faith. Gillion is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Northeast used a 17-0 second-half run to rally past Orlando Edgewater 43-37 on Friday afternoon. Edgewater went 10:23 without scoring a point.
But after the game, the Northeast girls said they did not want to play without their coach and would not suit up unless the tipoff time was changed.
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“It’s a championship – the last game of our season,” Northeast guard Nailah Delinois said. “How are we going to play without our head coach?”
Added teammate Cabria Lee: “That’s how we feel. We owe it to [Gillion].”
Northeast is set to play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. An FHSAA official said that Northeast asked for a special time for Friday’s game but did not make any such request for Saturday.
At this point, the official said, no changes can be made because the television schedule has been set.
Sundown on Saturday is set for 6:16 p.m. Given that, Gillion could’ve coached had Northeast been given the 7 p.m. time slot, which is now being held for the Class 8A final.
Gillion had said earlier this week that his assistant coach, Tiffany Charles, would coach the team if he cannot due to the schedule.
The controversy overshadowed a game which was exciting if not artistic. Northeast (22-7) shot just 15.4 percent through three quarters and just 19.1 percent for the game.
But while the shots were not falling, Northeast did not lack for hustle. Forward Ashley Saintigene nearly had a triple-double, getting 10 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocks in just 26 minutes before fouling out. She had 13 offensive rebounds.
Lee was held to 11 points, but nine of them came during the 17-0 run. Northeast also had a 13-0 run in the first half.
“Sooner or later,” Lee said, “our shots had to fall.”
Northeast has now beaten three of the top programs in the state in consecutive games — Dillard, Norland and Edgewater (21-6).
“This is what we’re supposed to do,” Delinois said of the big wins. “So, being the giant slayer? We’re supposed to do that.”
Now, though, Northeast’s season is on the brink due to the coach’s religious issue with the schedule.
“All of our games have been moved up because of my Sabbath,” Gillion said of previous conflicts. “I want the people from the FHSAA to take into consideration I won’t be able to coach the game. We were hoping the FHSAA would move the game.”
NE: Lee 11, Saintigene 10, Hudson 6, Taylor 2, Austin 12, Delinois 2. E: McMillan 17, Patrick 12, Bell 5, Tolbert 3. Half: E 27-17: Three-pointers: Patrick 2, Tolbert 1; Lee 1.