JACKSON TWP.  It has become a summer tradition for the Jackson girls basketball team.

After a busy month of summer league play, shootouts and skill work, the Polar Bears board a charter bus and make the drive west to South Bend, Ind., for the annual Notre Dame high school basketball summer camp.

June is the most packed month of the summer for high school basketball teams in Ohio because it’s when Ohio High School Athletic Association rules allow them to get together and attend shootouts and short-term summer leagues. At the end of that month, the Notre Dame camp was a mix of basketball and team building.

“We went to Notre Dame at the end of June … We left June 30 and came back July 3,” head coach Anthony Butch said. “We took 21 girls and it was pretty balanced among all four grades. Every senior went with us.”

That all seniors went on the trip is noteworthy because at present, there are eight seniors with the program. Having that many seniors is a new high for Jackson during Butch’s five seasons leading the program.

While each senior has a different role and some will see more playing time than others, merely having eight of them around should create a good foundation for the coming season.

“We’ve never had eight seniors before and it’s interesting having that many,” Butch said. “It was good for younger girls to watch how hard upperclassmen play and how they went about their business throughout the whole trip.”

Because the summer schedule is front-loaded, Butch noted, very few players took and family vacations or had other commitments that forced them to miss any of the team’s June activities.

By this time, going into his fifth full year at the helm, the veteran coach is confident that players know the team’s routine and how important it is to be part of as much of the offseason as possible. This offseason included a tournament at Barberton, a shootout at Mount Union and a shootout in the Columbus area, the latter two producing championships.

The Columbus shootout, hosted by Olentangy Liberty, was a two-day trip that gave Jackson a chance to travel together and spend a night in a hotel as a group, something they did again for the Notre Dame trip.

“We have a charter bus and it’s part of that summer experience, which really helps the bonding process,” Butch said. “When you have 21 girls in that close of a space, you get the singing and the silliness and a lot of those bonds and chemistry happen … those bonds for winter start to form in the summer and that’s the main purpose.”

The format of the camp remains the same as it was the past two seasons, with teams playing games against one another in between instruction and coaching and a sudden-death tournament on the second day of camp. The tournament itself isn’t as big a focal point as the other games between teams and Jackson went 4-2 in those contests, playing teams from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and defending state champions from Georgia and Colorado.

Another growing tradition that’s part of the trip is a stop in Sandusky to visit Cedar Point on the way home. As tempting as it can be to focus on basketball nonstop and ending a league championship drought creeping up on four decades, visiting one of the best roller coaster destinations in the United States and having a day with fun - and putt-putt golf - was a good way to wind down the basketball portion of the summer for the team.

“At the end of the day, you have remember that they’re all high school, teenage kids and as hard as we push and work them through June, this is kind of their reward,” Butch said. “We let them explore their park on their own, we did mini-golf and really tried to build those bonds and chemistry. It’s become like a staple of our summer program.”

OHSAA rules allow teams to begin holding open gyms starting Sept. 1 and in between now and then, coaches aren’t allowed to organize official team activities. One of the programs in which many players will participate is NST, a speed training program used by many Federal League programs across multiple sports. Until then, the Polar Bears will have to find way to retain the progress they made through the month of June and channel it into what they hope will be a continuation of their rise in the Federal League ranks. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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