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Lynchburg celebrates Liberty hoops, anticipates NCAA tourneys

March 15, 2013 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

A crowd of Flames fans gathered outside the Craddock Terry Hotel in downtown Lynchburg Friday for a pep rally celebration as City Council and the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce congratulated Liberty University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams on their recent Big South Conference championships and bids to the NCAA Tournaments.

In a proclamation by Mayor Michael A. Gillette, read by Vice Mayor Caesar Johnson, March 15, 2013, was announced as Liberty University’s Men’s and Women’s Basketball Team Appreciation Day.

“Whereas both teams have earned tickets to the NCAA Tournament and whereas we are proud of these student athletes and their accomplishments and thank them for bringing March Madness to the City of Lynchburg … we wish the best of luck to the Flames, the Lady Flames, and their coaches, and advisors, and supporters, and cheerleaders, as they travel and compete in the Big Dance,” Johnson said.

The news was met with applause and Johnson led the chant, “Go Flames go.”

Rex Hammond, president and CEO of the Chamber, who facilitated the event, and Del. Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg) were also in attendance.

The crowd heard from men’s head coach Dale Layer and women’s head coach Carey Green, as well as John Caleb Sanders, co-captain of the men’s team.

“It is an honor for us to be here and to be recognized in this scenario,” said Green, who is taking the Lady Flames to their 12th tournament in his 14 seasons. “It is definitely a privilege to represent the City of Lynchburg and the community as well as the state of Virginia.”

Liberty is the only women’s team in Virginia to have “punched its ticket” to the Big Dance, he said.

Layer talked about the character his players displayed in winning the BSC tournament after an 0-8 start to a rocky 15-20 season, a feat that has been praised by major media outlets, such as the New York Times. The Flames are only the second team in tournament history to earn a bid with 20 losses.

“There are a lot of men, grown men, men who have had great experiences, who would have folded up the tent and quit, and these guys did not,” he said. “It is a testimony of who they are as human beings, it is a testimony of who Christ is … the character of our guys was revealed daily in the midst of struggle and turmoil.”

Sanders shared his appreciation for Layer believing in the team and encouraging them throughout the season, good times and bad.

He reiterated Layer’s motto for the team, which was key in bringing them success: “Work like it all depends on you, pray like it all depends on Christ.”

During the rally, fans shared their support for the two programs, greeted players and took pictures with them, and watched Sparky, the Flames’ mascot, bust some dance moves.

The men’s team will learn its place in the brackets this Sunday at 6 p.m. on CBS. The Lady Flames will find out their destination and opponent for the Big Dance Monday on ESPN at 7 p.m.