For North Girls’ Basketball, Team Means “One Family”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  – Theodore Roosevelt

The girls playing basketball for North High School may not realize it, but they are the very embodiment of that famous quote.

This is no celebration of losing. It’s a salute to effort. And it’s not a sympathy card to the Bad News (Polar) Bears. It’s in admiration of a team that remains “one family” despite a run of adversity that would have lesser kids tossing in the towel.

Tuesday night they lost to Lincoln, dropping their record for the season to 0-16. On Wednesday they all showed up for practice, as usual. Their record is not reflected in the way they still go about their business. Their collective spirit remains undefeated.

If you think it’s tough just getting up and going to work or school on sub-zero mornings, try and put yourself in the trunks of JV swimmers who are in the pool swimming laps before dawn. That’s what you call paying dues. Or the singlets of novice wrestlers who spend the winter getting taken down and pinned. That’s a tough way to learn. Or the shoes of a winless basketball team running sprints the day after the latest in a string of losses. That’s perseverance that few have in them.

As if things weren’t tough enough for first-year coach Michael Stanley and his squad they lost senior Richelle Jimerson to a knee injury recently against Ankeny. Stanley describes Jimerson as the state’s premiere shot-blocker. She’s played for five coaches in her four years at North.

Then junior sparkplug Sebrina Dixon went down this week in a game against the Railsplitters, also with a knee injury. Both Dixon and Jimerson still show up for practice where able-bodied teammates still run sprints commensurate to the number of turnovers committed in their most recent game.

Senior Shantell Cortez suited up Tuesday night after the grandmother she lived with passed away suddenly the day before. She too was at practice Wednesday. Where else would she go? After all, her teammates are family. That’s what it says on the team’s schedule poster and that’s what it looks like when you see the girls together. While they may not be taken seriously as a basketball team by outsiders they’re very serious about each other and their futures.

“The kids I hear making fun of us at school are the losers who don’t try anything,” says Dixon, who also participates in track and student council and has her sights set on a Science Bound scholarship to Iowa State. “Why should I care what they think? They don’t see how hard we work.”

As a senior Jimerson sometimes feels additional weight from all the losing. Last year the team won only once. “It hurts that we don’t get more support and I wish I could do more,” she says softly, looking away. Jimerson, too, runs track and plans on attending Simpson College next year where she hopes to continue both sports.

How does a coach hold a team together during a season so empty of triumph? Stanley looks even younger than his 32 years and his infectious enthusiasm is undaunted as he awaits that elusive first victory. He grew up playing the game himself in Detroit and coached most recently at Sioux City North before coming here. Besides injuries the only attrition on the roster came when one girl quit nine minutes into the first practice of the season, before even one game was lost. The rest of the girls have been all in. “Many of them have no background in basketball,” Stanley points out, noting that it takes a while to master the finer points when you have to start out explaining the difference between an assist and a rebound. “But there is no quit in any of them. I tell them all the time that they are all learning life lessons from basketball that have nothing to do with winning or losing a game.”

Then he takes the court and goes into a drill aimed at teaching the team that it’s more efficient to move the ball by passing than dribbling. “We’ve done a good job of reducing our backcourt turnovers,” he reminds them, gesturing toward the opposite end of the practice court. “So look how far we’ve come from where we started and how much closer we are to our goals.” Right on cue they run a play where the ball never touches the floor until it falls through the basket after a layup.

Next up for the Polar Bears on Friday night: Theodore Roosevelt High School. Tip-off is at 6:15 PM at the Roosevelt gym.

Photos of North High Basketball Practice

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