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Leone signs with Chadron State

Ken Hamrick
Fowler Tribune
Fowler High School's Val Leone (front) signed a national letter of intent to play basketball at Chadron State (Neb.) College last Wednesday. Also pictured, back row from left, are Leone's mother Trish, his father Rick and Fowler head boys basketball coach Mark Lowther.

Fowler High School senior Val Leone has decided where he will continue his academic and athletic career as he signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Chadron State College on Wednesday.

Chadron State is an NCAA Division II school in Chadron, Neb. It is part of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference along with several schools from Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Utah including Colorado State University Pueblo.

"I signed with Chadron State because I felt that the coaches were really sincere and wanted the best for me and for me to make an impact on their team," Leone said. "I like their community and the kids on the team."

Leone was a starter for the Fowler boys basketball team during his sophomore and junior years and he led the team in scoring both seasons. The Grizzlies also advanced to the Class 2A state tournament both years.

In 2019, the Grizzlies had a high finish at the state tournament as they placed third. In the third-place game, Fowler defeated Holly, which was the favorite to win the state tourney.

"Finishing third was an awesome year," Leone said. "I was just a sophomore and it was the first year I had started for the team. It was a great experience to be able to go to Loveland and playing in front of big crowds and for a chance to at a state championship with my best friends."

The following year, Fowler returned to the state tournament. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies lost in the first round to defending state champion Yuma. The rest of the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Last year was a little bit disappointing in terms of how the season ended," Leone said. "But overall, it was still a successful year, working hard with my teammates every day. I feel like we had a fun season and it didn't end the way we wanted it to. But overall it was still a successful year."

Another difference in the two state tournaments was the crowd size. After having large crowds in 2019, COVID-19 forced very sparse attendance of very few people.

"It was a little bit weird," Leone said. "First they said that we would have no crowds. Then they changed it to four people per player. So we had between 40-50 people there. But it was definitely weird playing at state with barely anybody cheering. But once the game got started going, you forgot about it and just played."

Leone said that the Grizzlies found out about the cancellation of the remainder of the tournament on social media.

"We actually found out before coach (Mark) Lowther told us because they posted it on Instagram before they even told the coaches," Leone said. "So we were working on social media and they sent a post out that the tournament was canceled that night."

Leone is a two-sport athlete at Fowler as he also plays baseball. He did not play for the Grizzlies on their state runner-up team in 2019, but had planned to play last season. However, the entire season was canceled because of COVID-19.

"I'll plan on playing baseball this year," Leone said. "It will be a little bit different because most of the season is in the summer. But I'm looking forward to being able to play because we didn't have a season last year. It will be fun being able to get out and play with my friends. It's been a long time."

In the meantime, Leone is looking forward to his senior year of basketball and possibly going to a third straight state tournament.

"I'm really excited for the basketball season," Leone said. "We were looking to a really good year. We lost Moose (Johnathan Mobbley), our big forward, but we'll just have to play a little bit different style this year. But I think we can have a good year and it will be a fun last year being able to play with my friends."

Tribune-Democrat reporter Ken Hamrick can be reached by email at khamrick@ljtdmail.com. Help support local journalism by subscribing to the La Junta Tribune-Democrat at lajuntatribunedemocrat.com/subscribenow.