JACKSON TWP. Fans love celebrating state championships, league titles and All-Ohio selections.
Those are the big, glamorous moments for a program and ones that are remember for decades to come. But what can get lost in the excitement around those occasions is that they don’t happen without seasons where growth, progress and struggles are the buzz words and the win totals don’t approach record-setting levels.
Jackson has won two boys basketball state titles this decade and with last season’s championship glory fresh in everyone’s memory, this season has unfolded on a different path for the Polar Bears.
They have a winning record, hitting the halfway point at 7-4, but have endured some bumps along the way. Veteran head coach Tim Debevec still wants a better record, but realizes that his team has to tackle the rest of the season from where it stands and not where they wish it was.
"Halfway through and being 7-4, we’re not happy about being 7-4 at the midway point, but there’s nothing we can do about that but keep getting better every day," Debevec said. "We’ve learned some valuable lessons on and off the court and played against good competition in both Ohio and Florida."
Debevec noted that there has been a learning curve for the many new players seeing time on the court this season. While some of those players have been around for the strong run of the past few seasons, they’re expected to shoulder a bigger load this season.
That means a 28-2 record like last season isn’t within reach, but the goal of winning the Federal League still is attainable. Reaching that goal was put on pause last weekend when the massive winter storm that blew through Northeast Ohio postponed the much-anticipated tilt between Jackson and Lake.
The Blue Streaks remain the only undefeated team in the league and if Jackson can hang the Blue Streaks’ first loss on them, it would pull the Polar Bears within one game of the league leaders in the loss column,
Another factor that will play heavily into the outcome of the second half of the season will be the health of injured players, including Anthony Mazzeo and Ethan Coolidge, both of who have battled injuries over the first half of the season along with several other teammates.
Debevec, who has led the program for the past seven years, has been around long enough to know that every season won’t feature a state title game victory.
"Every year is different, but our goals will never change," he said. "We’re not going to lower our standards because we still want to win the Federal League and we still want to get back to Columbus."
The veteran coach praised the work of players such as Spencer Stanton, Ben Hyde, Trent Jones, Hayden Junker and others in stepping into new roles this season along with the team’s three returning starters.
He also noted that while Lake has kept an unblemished record so far, the first half of the Federal League schedule has proven once again that the league season is a place of chaos, upsets and surprises, where underdogs win on the road and inexperienced teams find ways to come up big against league heavyweights.
"Anybody can win on any night. With Lake, give them credit for starting unbeaten. They returned the most talent and solid contributors from lat year’s team district title team," Debevec said "For us, We got knocked off by Green and GlenOak, but beat some good teams, then Hoover knocked off GlenOak. It’s just like girls side (of Federal League basketball), where there are three really good teams - including our girls and all three have a chance to win the title."
So while 28 wins might not be possible this season, the idea that a year of growth, with a few setbacks and challenges mixed in, can’t still be a positive one is a notion the Polar Bears are out to disprove.
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