|Members of the Pinnacle squad show off their third place state trophy. The tournament was the teams first state competition and they came up with a big upset in their contest vs. Paradigm High winning 47-46. They also posted five wins total this season and are hoping to improve for a 2009 run that will be their first with seniors.|
For the first time the boys basketball team at Pinnacle High have a trophy they can call their own. After missing the championship game by two points the varsity squad led by coach Jeff Bowen brought home third place in the Utah School Sports Alliance's inaugural state tournament.
"Our team grew by tremendous strides this season," said Bowen. "We started the year with very little basketball IQ to speak of, but we progressed as a team and finished the season strong."
The USSA was formed in January to provide competitive sports to smaller and mid-sized high schools. It was established as an alternative league to the regular high school association and encompasses schools from Price to Logan.
Its 10 school membership is expected to at least double next fall, with schools participating in men's and women's sports. What surprised the organizers was how badly an alternative league was needed, according to information provided by founder Richard Dewey.
"The league gives smaller schools the opportunity to compete," said Dewey. "Even if they do not meet the budget requirements and other rules of the regular high school association, UHSAA, which requires not only hefty fees but for schools to have high-end playing facilities."
"Schools can pick and choose which sports they'd like to do," continued the founder from Independence High. "This also contrasts UHSAA, which requires schools to field a larger array of sports and provide their own gyms and grounds. We just want to make it happen so the kids can play, and avoid all the red tape. There is no waiting period and no forms to fill out. It's all about the kids and helping them have a fuller high school experience through sports, even if they attend smaller high schools."
|Freston Smith and Demetri Hullings run drills as coach Jeff Bowen gives instruction for the sidelines.|
Dewey began to plan an alternate league when his school, Independence High in Provo, could not find opponents. According to Dewey, Independence was denied because member schools of the association cannot play non-member schools.
"All we wanted was for our kids to have somebody to play," explained Dewey. "We called other high schools in a similar situation and found the same yearning within them to play as well, presto, we formed a league."
In December, Weber Basin High of Ogden was the first to join. Encouraged, Dewey along with his daughter and son David and Heather made over a thousand call to nearly a hundred schools and suddenly the league was growing.
Grades and numerous other issues are established by individual schools and coaches.
"The rule book is short and to to the point," said Dewey who noted that the bi-laws are still being written. "Individual schools and coaches know what is best to motivate their kids, so we stay out of the way and let them decide who should and should not play. Some kids have extenuating circumstances, having to work full time or coming from difficult home lives, so we don't make grades a hard and fast rule. We trust coaches and principals to use sports to motivate. So far, they have proven they know what they are doing and they are helping these kids immeasurably."
The leagues new coordinator has similar warm feelings about the league's beginning.
"Students knowing they are playing on a real high school team against other high schools, are creating memories and bonds they will never forget," said USSA Coordinator Aaron Cothran. "Student athletes have a chance in this league, more students have a chance being out of the shadow of larger high schools. They are given the chance to live in an exciting new world where the emphasis is not on creating superstar college players but in letting more players play."
The work for the league is provided by an all-volunteer army of people wanting to help, according to Dewey. None of the league's administrators are paid, even though it takes numerous hours per week to run the organization.
|Jullinn Garcia and Manuel Mitcheson embrace the teams trophy.|
The refereeing is overseen by one of the league's board members, Bo Earls. He is assisted by some highly experienced referees, including division one college experience.
The USSA's first state tournament saw Independence take the title and Carbon County's Pinnacle High come in third by winning the consolation game 48-47 in the final seconds over Paradigm High of Sandy.
Summing up the league's sudden success Pinnacle High Principal Roberta Hardy commented on the Price institution's first day back at school after the tournament.
"Our kids are taking turns carrying the trophy from class to class. They are so happy and so excited. I thought the entire event was so much fun, a nail biter for us, but great fun," said Hardy.
To put it mildly, Coach Bowen was ecstatic about the show his players put on.
"I am so proud of them, I think we were the youngest team in the tournament, having no seniors," said Bowen. "I think we were also the smallest team in the league in terms of size. My kids played with pride and intensity. It was great to have Julian tell me, hey coach we finally got basketball IQ."
Julinn Garcia, the teams most outspoken player could not put the trophy down when taking photos for this story.
It was easy to see that the tournament had touched his heart.
|Rusty Dunlap takes a "j" over CJ Willson during a late season practice.|
Also on the varsity squad are Jake Hardy and Freston Smith who are young but have the potential to be great, said Bowen.
Austin Welch and Stewy Jones who attend Carbon High but were elligible to play and have great basketball skills according to Bowen were also on the team.
The rest of the team included Bryce Damron, who is known as a good shooter; Jimmy Castoldi who improved tremendously over the season; Rusty Dunlap and CJ Willson, who work hard and are very quick respectively and Demitre Hullings, who is the teams big scorer according to Bowen.
Mannuel Mitcheson who is know as a threat to score from anywhere on the court and Dakota Andrews round out the team's arsenal.
They will all be back to build on their success next year.
"You know we lost one of our best and biggest players right before the tournament," said Bowen. "But nobody got down, everybody showed up at state looking to win."
Pinnacle ended up posting five wins in their first year of competition, something Bowen coveys with pride.
"The kids felt so good about themselves and that is what really matters," concluded Bowen.