Titans grounded by cancelled flight

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It was supposed to be an exciting week in Phoenix, with more than 60 players, coaches, parents and fans from Mercer County traveling west to see the Titans girls basketball team play in the Nike Tournament of Champions.

Instead, the Titans were still at home as of Monday as the tournament got underway thanks to a cancelled flight from Frontier Airlines and no help in getting them to Arizona. Now coach Chris Souder and his team must hope a pair of flights Tuesday morning hold up and get at least 27 members of the traveling party to the tournament.

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“It’s very frustrating,” Souder said. “We’ve worked for months, probably six or seven months, raising money for this. We’ve had our flights booked for a long time.

“They kept announcing to us that as soon as the crew gets here, we’ll load the plane. Then it was when one of the pilots get here, we’ll load the plane. A few minutes after that, we get the announcement the flight has been cancelled and there will be no more flights to Phoenix (on Sunday).

“It’s just a big mess, and we felt Frontier did nothing to help us, to say, ‘Hey, we’ll help you get to another airline.”

The Titans had to cancel their Monday game, but they hope to play in their other three games of the tournament.

The Titans had fundraised much of the money needed to attend the tournament, including purchasing the airline tickets. But when they arrived at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Sunday, they were told the flight was cancelled because of weather, despite flights to the west coast from the same carrier still on schedule and departing at the same time.

The Titans will depart Tuesday morning, but 18 will be on one flight and nine on the other, and after being told they would have to find their own way, some of the parents decided to not travel to Phoenix.

“I’ve got to decide which 18 are on one flight and what nine are on the other,” Souder said. “One is through Frontier, the other is through Allegiant (Air). One has a layover in Atlanta, one doesn’t. So we’re strategically trying to place adults on the two flights.”

As of Monday afternoon, Souder was trying to work with Delta Air Lines to try and get everyone on the same flight.

Without much recourse or effective help, some in the Titans party took to social media to call for help and air grievances. It was shocking to Souder how many people reached out to him via social media — including former Lexington mayor Teresa Isaac — and how their cause grabbed so much attention.

“Our community has been outstanding,” Souder said. “I’ve gotten text messages, people saying if we need money, they’ll help us out. The Twitter stuff has blown up, and Facebook, I’m getting it from people I don’t even know. … It’s been amazing the support we’ve gotten.”

With the cancellation and delay, the Titans plans for Phoenix have been thrown for a loop. The team practiced at school Monday, and Souder told them to leave their practice jerseys at home; they were going out to play games and not practice.

“We told them that maybe this is along the way of getting where we want to get to,” Souder said. “It’s another obstacle and that’s part of it. We’re going to get out to Phoenix, play three games and I don’t even know who we’re going to play. And I don’t care. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to play basketball and we’re going to have fun.”

Souder admitted how he’s handled the situation wouldn’t be so level headed had it instead been a family vacation.

But along the way, Souder found value in the disaster as a teaching tool.

“I’ve got people watching, I’m the leader of the group, so you’ve got to make sure you handle things the right way,” Souder said. “Hopefully it will work out and we’ll get out there and do pretty good, do the best we can and have fun.”

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn