JACKSON TWP. Every good title run needs a championship belt - and a Teletubby - right?
As the reality of being the Division I state champions sinks in for the Jackson Polar Bears, their reign atop the state of Ohio’s big-school boys basketball division comes with the usual commemorative items - the state championship trophies and medals each player received - but there are also a pair of unusual items that will also be part of the season’s story when it’s told in the years ahead.
One is a WWE World Heavyweight Championship replica belt and the other is a purple Teletubby costume, and anyone who attended a game during the Polar Bears’ tournament run is likely familiar with one or both.
“It’s actually one of our classmates’, Gary Parsons. He went to Toys R Us one night and bought it,” senior forward Logan Hill said. “I think the first game he brought it to was the Hoover game when we won the Federal League championship.”
The belt became a fixture at games as the season wound down. It was there for photo ops when the team won sectional, district and regional championships and, yes, when the 39-38 win over Cincinnati Moeller brought the state championship home to Stark County.
In photos, it typically showed up on Hill or Young’s shoulder, but the other unusual totem of the title run belonged to another classmate, Michael Mayle. Maybe inherited the purple Teletubby costume from his brother and wore it to games, adding a dash of cartoon color to games from the Jackson student section.
Having Mayle, Parsons and hundreds of other students come out to support them over the course of the postseason wasn’t lost on the Polar Bears. When asked what jumps to mind first thinking about the title game win, Young pointed to the joyful mayhem that spilled from the court at Value City Arena up to the stands, where fans of all ages jumped, shouted, hugged and soaked in the moment.
“Really, there’s just a lot of memories of the celebration and what it felt like,” Young said. “Everyone was going crazy and it was all just a blur.”
Having the WWE replica belt was fitting in part because as the Polar Bears were making their push for a championship, WWE was busy with its buildup to WrestleMania, the company’s biggest pay-per-view event each year. While various professional wrestlers angled for a spot in the WrestleMania main event and a shot at a championship of their own, Jackson’s replica belt took each step of the postseason journey with the Polar Bears.
It was there the night that they downed Hoover for a second time this season, routing the Vikings to capture the district championship. It made its way up the road to Rhodes Arena on the University of Akron campus for wins over Medina and Toledo St. John’s.
Perhaps the most fitting WWE-Jackson connection was the title game itself, which had the makings of a falls-count-anywhere, no-holds-barred title match at WrestleMania. For 32 minutes, Jackson and Moeller traded shots, each appearing to seize control of the game at one point or another.
“Games like that are really gritty and they’re a grind,” Hill said. “I like getting down and dirty in those games and I feel like that fits my skills.”
Much like a tag team wrestler tagging in to help a struggling teammate, Hill and the rest of the Polar Bears rose to the challenge as Young struggled through a 1-for-10 shooting night that kept the First Team All-Ohio section to just five points. Young credited Hill, Jaret Pallotta, Kyle Nicolas and others for stepping up when he struggled.
According to Hill, the night was especially meaningful knowing that it would be the final competitive basketball game for some members of the team.
“It was awesome. We were talking about it the whole tournament run, that for some of us, it would be the last time playing basketball,” Hill said. “We joked that maybe there would be some rec league games down the road, but other than that, it would be the last time for some guys.”
Five members of the team, including Hill (Toledo), Young (Butler) and fellow senior Michael Zitney (Indiana Wesleyan) have committed to play sports at the college level, but they’ll leave behind plenty of marks on the school and program. Some, like the trophy and wall display commemorating the title soon to be put up outside the gym, will be in the halls of Jackson High School. Others, like the WWE belt and Teletubby costume, will stay in the hands of fellow students as they go their separate directions after graduation.
All, however, will be reminders of a team that heard for three straight years that it couldn’t get to its ultimate postseason destination and got rid of those criticisms with eight memorable March performances. In the end, the belt - and Teletubby costume - went home with the Polar Bears.
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On Twitter: @aharrisBURB