Ditching the old-school stamped T-shirts and color coordinated wristbands, Gordon Russell's boys basketball team donned their black and red before snatching the championship title in the YMCA's new Competitive Y-Ball league playoffs Saturday, Jan. 28, against H.B. Lee.

The Thunderbirds ended the five-week-long regular season with a 10-0 record and then proceeded to sweep the three-round playoff tournament and claim their big, shiny trophy, which Chris Kennedy, volunteer assistant coach, says is now prominently positioned inside the school's trophy case.

'We were able to pull out a really exciting victory,' said Randy Crawford, the team's volunteer head coach. The Thunderbirds trailed well into the fourth quarter before picking it up and closing the game down with a score of 59-53. Eighth-grader Chase Crawford scored 24 of the 59 points and also pulled down nine rebounds and had seven blocked shots, and his teammate Ian VanderMeer helped cement the victory, scoring another 19 points with three steals and 12 rebounds.

Due to district budget cuts in recent years, nearly all school-sanctioned sports teams have been eliminated at the middle school level. Athletes were encouraged to join preparatory teams funded either privately or by an organization such as the YMCA.

'As soon as people get over the stigma of being associated with the YMCA, the notion that it isn't competitive, they see that it's a pretty good option,' Crawford said. 'There are great refs, we play hard and we play to win.'

He says the team carries on as it would if it were still funded by the district. During the season, they played two games per week against other area middle schools such as Dexter McCarty, Walt Morey, West Orient and Damascus.

Eight of Gordon Russell's 13 players also play basketball for Barlow's preparatory teams, which have proven to be another viable outlet for athletes seeking competition.

- Cory Crouser

Contract Publishing

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