EDIT 3/9/23 at 7:21 p.m.: All-session tickets are no longer available. An updated link to tickets for Friday’s game can be found here.

After years of playing youth basketball and competing as a freshman and sophomore at Lake Highlands High School, Joseph Hughes served as a team manager last year, then decided to focus on his academic studies as a senior. He’s got his eye on college, and he’s trying to choose between Samford, Texas A&M and OU.

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One day, though, as he was walking past the Wildcat gym, he heard the unmistakable sounds of athletic shoes squeaking on polished wood and basketballs banging through nets. He couldn’t take it another day. He walked in and signed up to become a senior manager for the Wildcats.

“The way this team plays the game, the way the community supports the team, it really changed my mind,” said Hughes Thursday morning as he packed up team gear and loaded it onto the luxury bus headed for the state championship tournament in San Antonio. “It says a lot about the program as a whole. The team needs people who work hard, and that’s what brought me back.”

Hughes says he’s a jack-of-all trades at practice and on the sidelines, pitching in with drills, serving up water, working the clock and “giving good energy” on the sidelines when needed.

“I knew coming into this season that we had an immense amount of skill that could take us far, I just didn’t know how far we could go. There’ve been a bunch of times this team has persevered — either being down in the first half or playing tough competition — and we’ve been able to hang with ‘em and put up buckets. I’ve enjoyed being involved in practice and being part of a team of winners. These are all high-energy guys who want to win. They’re very focused. They don’t dwell on negatives as a team — they talk to each other about what they can do better to get the W.”

Hughes and the rest of the team were accompanied to the city limits by a couple dozen motorcycle units from the Dallas Police Department. LHHS Bell Boys, Highlandettes, drumline, cheerleaders, folklorico and other student groups were there to cheer them on, and LBJ freeway was shut down for 34 miles to give the bus clear sailing on their journey.

At barely five feet tall, LHHS senior Lucy Kate Murray admits she’s never played the game. But her varsity cheer squad has been on the sidelines all year, and she was excited to be headed to South Texas Thursday morning.

“It’s just crazy, the whole school is supporting this team. I think it’s going to be really crowded and really loud. Honestly, it’s been hard for us all to concentrate. We’re thinking about basketball all day.”

Molly Bono, also a cheerleader, said cheering near the student section has been a hoot.

“There’s a bunch of senior guys in the front, and they lead the student cheers. It’s our mission to engage the crowd and engage the parents and hype up the players on the court. The student group is trying to hype up the students and irritate the opposing team and their fans. They want to knock them off their game.”

Amy and Brandon Moore both graduated from LHHS, where he played basketball for the Wildcats. They have a son at Texas Tech, a son on LH’s junior varsity, and a son on the freshman team.

“This is what you dream of, for your high school team to make it to state,” she said. “People always say Lake Highlands is like a small town in a big city, and it truly is. There are about ten of us moms who’ve been coming to all the send offs, but to see this many people come out today, to see so many people supporting these boys, it’s really special.”

Lake Highlands will play in the semifinals against DeSoto at 8:30 p.m. Friday night. Tickets in the LH section are available here using the promo code Home2. The winner plays Saturday night at 8:30 for the state championship. Go Cats.