They left the court for the final time as almost all great athletes do. Not riding on the shoulders of their teammates, victorious against even the greatest of odds. No, those are stories most often left to Hollywood to tell.
For these great athletes, and make no mistake, they are two of the best to ever do it in Warren County, the final exit was one overcome with emotion. Spent from having given every ounce of energy, every last drop of sweat to try to will their team to victory just one more time.
When Warren seniors Riley Childress and Emma Ruhlman got their final curtain call with just over two minutes left in Warren’s 58-36 loss to Oakland Catholic in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A playoffs, it marked the end of a 4-year span of unparalleled greatness in Lady Dragons basketball history.
The two burst onto the varsity scene as freshmen and wasted little time making their presence felt. They helped the Dragons to a 22-5 record that season and the program’s second District 10 title in three years.
To this day, Childress still holds my personal record for all-time best interview answer. When asked after the semifinal win over General McLane that season what she was most looking forward to about the D10 championship, she unhesitatingly said, “The win.”
And win they did. To the tune of an 80-23 record in their four years, believed to be the best in program history.
Not just regular season wins, but the duo qualified for the PIAA state tournament all four years and won the District 10 title three times in four seasons.
Ruhlman finished her career with 1,448 points, second behind Margo Loutzenhiser’s 1,618 in program history. Childress sits fifth on that list with 1,341 career points.
They got to walk off the court to a standing ovation in front of a packed Joseph A. Massa Gymnasium, in front of a fan base that has come to truly embrace the program.
And off the court may be where their biggest impact is felt. For all the travel and practices and games and points and titles, there have also been the camps and the Zoom workouts and the time spent interacting with the next generation of Lady Dragons.
Those girls who are just starting to grow a love for the game and want to emulate their heroes on the court. Not Turasi and Bird. Childress and Ruhlman.
No, they didn’t get to ride off into the sunset championship trophy in hand, freshly cut net around their neck as the credits rolled on the Hollywood ending.
They walked off the floor for the final time as Lady Dragons having built a championship legacy on, and off, the court.