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Local and Regional Sports

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WLU Basketball: 'It isn’t just for the university, it’s for the community'

Updated: Saturday, March 29 2014, 06:52 PM EDT

WLU Basketball: 'It isn’t just for the university, it’s for the community'
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – As someone who has lived in the tiny town of West Liberty for 70 years and been a fan of the sports teams at the college at least that long, Olive Turner never thought she’d see the day West Liberty played for a national title in something as high-profile and competitive as men’s basketball.
“Oh no,” she said.
Turner is 84 years old.
On Saturday during the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship game, she was sitting, as she always does, with a large throng of lifelong West Liberty residents and die-hard WLU sports fans, including Nelson and Bonnie Gilbert, two former school employees who have lived in the same house on the turn next to the fire department in town since, well, forever.
They, too, have a connection with the school that runs higher than the hilltops. All three of their kids are graduates of West Liberty (State College).
So when Turner says this kind of goodwill and national exposure, “isn’t just for the university, it’s for the community,” it’s easy to see what she means.
“It means a lot,” she said. “I love the boys. I know them all. I know their parents. And I think we have the absolute most outstanding coach in America.”
That relationship between the community and the players is real.
Bonnie Gilbert is the Pastor at the West Liberty Federated Church. Along with more church members like Cindy and Kevin McGee, they’ve often offered to feed the WLU players.
They’ve been taken up on many of those offers.
“We’re just so proud of those boys and Coach Crutchfield,” Gilbert said. “Nobody is perfect but that’s a group of very good young men.”
As she said that, she pointed to a cast on her young granddaughter Erin’s arm. It was signed by the entire team, as were the shirts of all the kids who were around that particular day.
With that kind of attitude, and this kind of success, they say it’s impossible not to root for the Hilltoppers.
“It’s been a wonderful thing,” Gilbert said. “We look forward to it every winter. We don’t want to go off the hill. Where else are you going to get entertainment like that?”
Turner has lived in West Liberty since 1944, where prior to Crutchfield’s arrival, the school had exactly two 20-win seasons. She says nowhere.
“Boy we’re not having a dry spell now,” she said.

 PHOTO: West Liberty residents, from left, Olive Turner, Bonnie Gilbert, and Nelson Gilbert, gather to watch WLU's national title game Saturday.

WLU Basketball: 'It isn’t just for the university, it’s for the community'

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