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Of the many things to learn from a run like the one in overdrive at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School, No. 1 is the value of staying together.

It is not merely staying together in a physical sense — attending the same school, walking the same hallways, sitting in the same classrooms — but staying together in mindset and approach.

Maybe "learn" is the wrong word. What has happened at GCMS is not a lesson as much as a reminder of how much chemistry, friendship, trust and loyalty matter in sports.

The snapshot view is to look at the Falcons' back-to-back Class 2A state football championships and current surge to the 2A basketball super-sectional and point to athleticism, competitiveness, hard work.

While certainly big factors, it runs deeper than that. There is a unique oneness about it all, a shared devotion to the cause and one another.

You build that over time and the nine seniors on the team have had plenty together. They went 24-1 as seventh graders and placed third in the IESA state tournament. They were 26-1 as eighth graders and took third again.

They played youth football, won track titles, attended camps, played pickup games ... all of it together.

They're not the first. No new ground was broken. They've just been better than most at taking advantage of their familiarity with each other and having the opportunity to mature and develop as one.

That's special. 

Over the years in our corner of the newsroom, we've seen so many players and/or parents not understand the value in that.

We've seen highly successful junior high teams splinter, with players winding up at several different high schools. We've seen others self-destruct because of jealousy or distractions or even burnout.

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We've not seen it at GCMS, where the heart and soul is 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior Bryce Barnes. A football all-stater headed to Illinois as a recruited walk-on, Barnes makes big plays in big moments. He did it again Friday night in the final minutes of a 58-53 victory over Central Catholic at the Tolono Unity Sectional.

GCMS coach Ryan Tompkins will tell you Barnes is "the kind of guy everyone looks to," but that the strength of this group is its willingness to always be a group.

"The biggest part of it is they're able to lean on each other," Tompkins said. "They have confidence in each other. They know if one guy is not having a big game, everybody is ready to step up.

"That's probably what gives them the most confidence. They trust each other and they know they have each other's backs."

It's why Barnes, after helping secure GCMS' 30th straight win Friday night, told our Randy Reinhardt and anyone who would listen: "It was a great effort from our whole team. We fought back and stepped up in the last minute and got a win. My teammates having my back and me having my teammates' back is what got the job done tonight."

Other players on other teams say things like that, but at GCMS they live it. It's a kinship that runs through the entire roster and especially seniors Barnes, Ryland Holt, Connor Birky, Caleb Bleich, Ben Freehill, Lane Short, Nathan Garard, Josh Bleich and Chris Hood.

It had its seeds in elementary school, took root in junior high and has blossomed into something of a phenomenon.

Win or lose Tuesday against Pleasant Plains in the Springfield Super-Sectional, they will do it together. They will share the credit in triumph or the responsibility in defeat. It's how they roll.

They have reminded us how important and unifying that is with a run they'll never forget.

It's special. 

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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