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Richmond rallies behind John Marshall, No. 1 HS basketball team

Senior Dennis Parker flies high for an attempted dunk as a ref and several players look on.
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Senior Dennis Parker flies high for an attempted dunk.

John Marshall High School’s undefeated basketball team might not look much like an underdog. The team’s 63-point margin of victory over Brunswick High School in the Class 2 state semifinals on Monday was emblematic of a season where they’ve dominated the competition. As of late February, sports site MaxPreps ranks them the best team in the U.S.

But for fans like Keidre Tyler, Class of ’94 and mother of a John Marshall sophomore, the school is also overcoming stigma. John Marshall sits in a Northside community affected by redlining, divestment and gentrification.

“Of course they look at us from where we are — where our school is located,” Tyler said as she watched Monday’s game. “But we out here. We came to win it.”

The team is heading into Saturday’s Virginia High School League championship against Radford High — a rematch of last year’s game, easily won by John Marshall — with expectations that go beyond Virginia. Coach Ty White, who has been at the helm since 2003, said in a postgame interview that he knew this year’s team would be strong even by the basketball powerhouse’s standards.

“This year, our mantra is: ‘national champs,’” White said.

George Branch, who lives near the school and has been following the team for a dozen years, agreed from his perch in the stands that this season’s team is especially gifted — “about the best team we ever had.”

Branch doesn’t have students who attend the school, but said he goes to every game.

“This team has really brought the community together,” Branch said. “And the city of Richmond together.”

John Marshall has faced many of the same challenges as other Richmond schools. Over 70% of the school’s 600 enrolled students meet state criteria as “economically disadvantaged students” because they are eligible for free or reduced lunch or receive federal aid through TANF or Medicaid.

But Tyler’s son, Keinard, who plays JV basketball and football at John Marshall, praised the teachers — “people who care about you,” he said. The team’s success is also drawing positive attention to the school, according to the sophomore.

“Can’t nobody beat them,” Tyler said. “Obviously, you can see the score.”

Saturday’s game will be held at VCU’s Siegel Center at 6:30 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance online.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.