At the bottom of the league, ups the only place left to go

Girls basketball teams at 3 area schools work with what they've got

They still roll out the bleachers on both sides of the gym for girls basketball games at Marshall High. But why?

The Minutemaids, once a state power, consistently finish at the bottom of the PIL these days, losing by more than 30 points per game. Most seasons, Marshall can count its wins on one hand. Home games frequently are played before a dozen or two parents and students. If there's a 'buzz' in the gym, it's coming from the overhead lighting.

Marshall, which has won twice this season, is not alone in its struggle. The swath of losing extends north to Madison and then veers west to Roosevelt. None of these schools have reached the state playoffs since 1996.

Marshall, Madison and Roosevelt are a combined 4-29 in the PIL this season. They were 6-48 last year and 8-46 in 2000-01. Whenever they play one of the top five teams in the league Ñ Benson, Grant, Jefferson, Lincoln or Wilson Ñ the outcome is never in doubt.

'We're still working to connect the dots on what it's like to practice well, to practice hard and get the benefits of that,' Marshall coach Paul Pietrzyk says.

Even at the bottom of the league, though, there are plans to improve. There is hope.

'We're focusing on the positives of our program,' Pietrzyk says. 'And one of those things is, we have nowhere to go but up.'

The unity plan: Madison

Madison has a talented player in 6-1 Joyce Oniah, one of several sophomores third-year coach Wendy Butler is hoping to build around. As with any school, that means playing in summer.

Last year, Madison didn't play any games in summer.

'It's frustrating losing all the time,' Oniah says. 'But we have to try harder, stick together and play more in the off-season. If we do that, we can get better.'

Butler, a former college player, is hoping to take the Senators to summer tournaments and invigorate the program enough to avoid having the players transfer to a school with a better team.

'It's hard to build unity at the outer schools in the PIL,' Butler says. 'Because as soon as you get something going, the girls leave.'

The club team: Roosevelt

Roosevelt's second-year coach, Tyrone White, is a former all-state player from Jefferson. White recently persuaded the Inner City Players club program to add a girls team, and some of those girls will come from Roosevelt.

'This will give our girls a chance to play more in the summer,' says White, who works at Roosevelt in the Safe Schools program. 'Hopefully, those girls will want to stay together at Roosevelt.'

White is trying to get his players, two of whom are freshmen, into a mindset to succeed.

'We want the players to stop accepting that it's OK to lose, that it's OK to just show up,' he says. 'It's helpful to have the boys team doing well. It's helping the school.'

The watershed: Marshall

Marshall reached the state playoffs for 12 straight years starting in 1979 and won the state title in '81 and '82. The school also was a volleyball power in those years, reaching the state final four times from 1978-87.

Pietrzyk, who has five kids in the district Ñ three of whom will attend Marshall next year Ñ has thrust himself into marketing the Minutemaids to the future players.

Marshall often holds Saturday tournaments where middle school girls can play for free. Pietrzyk gets the Minutemaids to coach or officiate. He frequently invites parents to come to the gym and play basketball, because many parents in the Marshall area are from other cultures and are unfamiliar with the sport.

'I don't think we've done a good job of trying to keep our kids here at Marshall,' Pietrzyk says. 'We've got to connect more with them at a younger age and make them feel comfortable coming here.

'If a player or a parent comes to the school and can see a face they know, that only increases the chances they're going stay here and be part of our community.'

Marshall Athletic Director Mark Brandenburg is thrilled by the results the girls team is achieving, even if it hasn't won many games. Marshall also isn't fielding a freshman team this winter.

'Paul is doing the right things to build the program,' Brandenburg says. 'The team has a lot of young players and they're taking their lumps, but you can see they're getting better. And you can see how they're going to get better in the future.'

Guard Celeste Campbell, who frequently leads the team in scoring, is a freshman.

Marshall plans to attend four summer tournaments, double its number from last year. The team raised money for summer play last year by doing landscape work at the school. Pietrzyk is making that part of the program this year, too.

'We're challenging other teams at the school to adopt an area of the campus and keep it up twice a year,' Pietrzyk says. 'We need to build the pride back into our school to make the kids want to be here every day.'

Although the Minutemaids are at the bottom of the league, Pietrzyk says he sees the desire to win showing up in his players. He recently contacted Ken Trapp, who coached Marshall to its two state basketball titles, and asked about the team's history.

'I think we're starting to get good enough where the girls are going to want to know what used to happen here in this gym,' Pietrzyk says. 'Hopefully, that will inspire them to try even harder.

'Twenty years ago, we were pretty successful. It would be great if we can get back to being a competitive team that draws the community to our games. I would love for the girls to see a lot of people in the stands.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..