For Lanier High School sophomore Karina Lopez, the school year didn’t get off to a good start.
But it didn’t take long before things got much better.
Lopez was one of about 30 players, coaches, administrators and trainers who in May received rings commemorating the Lanier girls basketball team’s Class AAAAAA state championship, the school’s first team state title since it opened 10 years ago.
Unfortunately for Lopez, she misplaced her ring last Sunday on a Delta Airlines flight from Minneapolis and started school the next day without her precious memento of a remarkable basketball season.
“Karina was visiting family in Minnesota and her mother wanted her to take the ring to show everybody,” said Longhorns girls basketball coach Tim Slater. “She lost the ring, which was still in its ring box, on the flight. She was just devastated that she lost it.”
“When I got home, the moment I knew I didn’t have it, I thought I had left it in Minnesota,” said Lopez, a 5-foot-6 guard for the Longhorns. “I thought I’d left it on the counter. When I called up there, they said the ring wasn’t there.
“I was going to cry because that ring was something that meant a lot to me. All the other girls on the team wore their rings on the first day of school and I wasn’t able to.”
What follows is an interesting story (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending) of the efforts Delta employees who found the ring went to — with special help on the ground in Sugar Hill — in order to make sure it was returned to its rightful owner.
Chris Strohm, the director of Lanier Youth Basketball, received an email late Sunday night from Delta and almost dismissed it as spam. But when he read the email, it said that a Lanier ring with the name Lopez was found and was in a safe at baggage claim at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va.
“I had no idea what was going on because I don’t know Karina,” Strohm said. “There was never a full explanation of how they found me, of all people, but they must have Googled ‘Lanier basketball’ and found me on the Lanier Youth Basketball site. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
The next day, Strohm called Slater and told him Lopez’s missing ring had been found and he arranged for UPS to return the ring on Thursday.
“She was pretty ecstatic about that,” Strohm said. “And I thought this was a great story, that Delta, which is based in Atlanta, went the extra mile to make sure Karina got her ring back.”
Upon receiving her ring, Lopez said, “I was very, very happy. I didn’t think that I’d ever see it again. I’m so happy someone in Washington found it and got it back to me.”
In the 2018-19 season, Lanier went 29-3 overall and 10-0 in Region 8-AAAAAA. The team’s last loss came on Dec. 28 and after that game the Longhorns closed out the season on a 19-game winning streak, defeating Alexander, Sequoyah, Glynn Academy, Forest Park and Lovejoy to claim state gold.
Slater said the school and community raised funds to buy the the team’s rings, and players received them at a ceremony at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth.
“It’s a neat story,” said Slater, who is entering his second season as coach of the Longhorns. “We really got a lot of great support from Sugar Hill.”
Given that her heartbreaking experience transitioned into a heartwarming conclusion, Lopez said she learned an important lesson.
“As soon as I got home and showed the ring to my mom, she said, ‘See, this shows you that whenever you find something, you need to do the same thing as they did,” she said. “And she’s so right.”