GREEN  It was a moment not just for the dozen current players with “Green” across their chests in black and orange letters; it was also a moment for the hundreds of players who’d worn a Green uniform over the years.

When the final buzzer sounded in the Canton Division I district final and the Bulldogs stormed the court, celebrated and cut down the nets alongside the awarding of their first-ever district championship trophy, it was hard not to remember those who’d come before them and hadn’t quite been able to reach that point.

Veteran head coach Mark Kinsley has walked the sidelines for Green for two decades and was happy for both his current team and those who helped build the program to where it is today.

“I’m very happy for the players in program now and we also had a number of alumni who were at the game and able to take part in the win,” Kinsley said. “Our kids played outstanding basketball, especially on the defensive end.”

The defensive end has been the Bulldogs’ calling card this season. It keyed a 27-7 second-quarter burst that put them in control in a 65-45 win over Jackson that was fulfilling on several fronts. The district title and accompanying berth in the regional tournament for the first time in program history stand out, but so does gaining revenge over a Jackson team that beat Green on its home court to deny the Bulldogs a second straight Federal League title.

In the process, the Polar Bears won their fifth straight league crown and solidified themselves as the top seed in the district bracket. Winning the third matchup of the season between the two teams gave Green a 2-1 edge in the season series and anyone who think the month between the second and third games in that series didn’t add fuel to Green’s fire is sorely mistaken.

“After we lost to Jackson here on Feb. 8, we talked putting ourselves in a position next month (March) to face them again in the district title game, so for over a month our kids played and worked to make that happen,” Kinsley said.

While not satisfied simply with a district title, it’s possible to make the case that the win over Jackson gives Green the one piece of the puzzle it hadn’t possessed before now when it came to claiming the same status as the two teams with which it shared the league title last season, Jackson and Lake.

Both rivals have made it to the regional tournament or beyond in the past decade, with Lake having reached the regional final at the Wohlstein Center in Cleveland - the same site for Green’s regional appearance - and Jackson having won two state titles.

Now, the Bulldogs can boast league and district titles to their credit, a district player of the year in senior Kaleb Martin and another 20-win season. While they don’t have as much hardware as the Polar Bears do, they’ve shown the ability to compete well with them during their short time in the Federal League.

Many former players have reached out to Kinsley in the wake of the district title win to offer congratulations and the veteran coach says some of those former players still drop in to visit the current team when they can.

“I think they know that one thing we always do is include alumni in our program,” Kinsley said. “They visit the locker room after games and if they’re home for holidays, they stop in or they play in our alumni game.”

Kinsley said the alumni presence has given the current players some idea of what the district title means to the program and community, but added that Martin and his teammates likely “won’t truly understand it until they’ve graduated and aren’t playing anymore.”

Maybe once the district championship trophy is in the school’s trophy case and a banner recognizing the title is hanging in the rafters that reality will sink in a bit, but for now, it’s a new feeling that’s taking some getting used to.

WILDCATS ON TO REGIONALS

Mogadore made a bit of its own basketball history by downing Canton Central Catholic 43-40 to claim the Salem Division III district title. The Wildcats were led, as they have been all season, by the duo of Lukas Swartz and Kyle Coffman. Swartz is the son of longtime Mogadore head coach Russ Swartz and with the win, the Wildcats earned a spot in the Canton Division III regional bracket at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.

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or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com

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