Nativity School's eighth grade boys' Varsity basketball team went undefeated in the regular season this year, with an 8-0 record. The interesting part of the story is that the exact same group of boys had a 0-8 record last year. That's right: they didn't win a single game in the regular season last year.
What caused the turnaround? No, they did not play NJB together as a group in the off-season. They didn't hire professional coaches or attend expensive basketball camps. They did not have a 6'4" 14-year-old suddenly transfer to the school. According to the boys' coaches (and fathers), the seeds of this year's undefeated season started off in the postseason of last year. The boys, despite their 0-8 record, were given a spot in the postseason playoffs that kicked off with a match up against the #1 undefeated team for what was assumed to be a quick elimination. In a stunning upset, Nativity won. While they didn't progress much farther into the playoff season, the change in mindset had taken hold. Simply put: they saw themselves as "the David."
Fast forward to this season. The boys who took the court this season were changed from the inside out. With the knowledge of what they were capable of doing, they formulated a simple game plan; they would out-work their opponents through physical conditioning. According to one of their parent coaches, Sal Ruiz, "we were not the tallest team out there. We did not have the best, most technical players out there. Our boys might not have gone to the fancy camps and all that. But we knew we could do two things: push ourselves to be in the best physical condition possible and to play as a team. There was not a 'best player'. They played for each other. They believed in each other. And they pushed each other to get into top physical condition. In fact, they pushed each other harder than we coaches ever pushed them."
After their perfect regular season, this team's fairytale came to an end in the playoffs. They did not win the final championship. Perhaps it was all those games on the losing end of the scoreboard at the final buzzer, but these young athletes demonstrated to all that they mastered the art of losing as graciously as they won. "These young men were always humble with their wins, and when they lost, it was with class and pride," said Ruiz. "They were great role models for their younger classmates, and it was truly just an honor for us coaches to be associated with them."
Our family is looking forward to March Madness. We'll probably cheer hard for the underdogs, and get excited for the Cinderella stories which remind us that anything is possible with hard work, hustle and determination. But for my kids, a personal, relatable role model of a great turnaround story won't be on TV. It will be found in a group of boys on the blacktop at school; a group of boys just playing hoops.