January 26, 2016
Team Undefeated for Three Consecutive Seasons
For most coaches, to coach a winning season is a satisfying accomplishment. Improving that record to an undefeated season is exciting and even exhilarating, but for a coach to have a team with three consecutive undefeated seasons is a dream come true. This dream is a reality for Prince Avenue Christian School Middle School Girls Basketball Coach Michael Palmer.
Coach Palmer has been the PACS middle school basketball coach since 2004. He has consistently built the program to be respectable and competitive, working with many talented players along the way. But in the fall of 2013, he began to work with a very unique group of 6th grade girls. That season, however, was not the first he had heard of this special team.
“Back when they were all in 4th grade and I didn't even know they existed, a friend of mine called me up one day out of the blue and asked me what was the best Prince middle school team I'd ever coached. I told him, and he said, ‘You're going to coach one better.’ nbsp;I remember laughing at him, saying, ‘It's going to have to be pretty good to be better.’ He tells me he's been watching a group of Prince girls play at Athens First United Methodist Church and that I wouldn't believe how good they are. But it wasn't until the girls were in 5th grade in the Northeast Georgia Feeder League that I got to see first-hand what all the fuss was about.”
The competition that Coach Palmer was observing ironically was a close championship game that the PACS team lost – the only game lost by the team since their 4th grade season. “I couldn’t wait to work with all of these young ladies. I blinked my eyes three times, and now it’s coming to an end.”
So what is the “wow factor” about this team? What enables this simple middle school team on which all the girls get playing time to go years undefeated and to average 37 points a game? Coach Palmer explains that he could talk endlessly about accolades racked up by the team and the players, but the real difference can best be observed in the locker room. “I think the secret to so much prolonged success has always been about the warmth the girls have for each other. Not what plays we run or who is playing.”
Coach Palmer describes a group of girls who know each other well and who have a genuine concern for one another. Ten of the girls have been together on the team since 6th grade, and they have warmly welcomed the addition of one player last year and three other players this year. They are a unique group, full of personality – each one making her own contribution to the character of the team.
Ansley Hall is known for her ball handling and spot-on lay ups but more so for her strong will to stay at the top of her game. Sybille Foucart is consistent under the basket but the other players recognize her strength on the team. Kathryn Anne Frierson can enter most any crowd scrambling on the court and somehow come out with the ball, but she is the team Chaplain who demonstrates love and concern for her teammates spiritually. Niyah Beasley is one of the quiet members on the bench. However, her presence on the court is undeniable due to the energy and effort she displays.
Maggie Campbell is fun to watch each time she handles the ball or lines up to sink a three pointer, but she is a tough player who is fearless when she plays. Riley Wilson is the tallest player on the team and has been valuable for rebounding and scoring, but she has worked hard to gain the skills to be the kind of player she aspires to be. Aleah Crane is a consistent player with a quiet strength of character. Lindsay Rogers is unselfish; Mackenzie Case has sacrificially worked through physical injuries; Caroline Middlebrooks is a true leader, and Kelly Cascella perseveres through hard work.
The two newest members of the team joined this year – Ivey Meeks with her reliable attitude and Lauren Rowell as a courageous first year player. Maggie Allen is the lone but talented 7th grader on the team who persistently pursued a place on the team, knowing she wanted to be a part of this special group.
These unique strengths and the relationships the girls have with each other motivate Coach Palmer and his assistant coach, Tim Hall, to lead with passion. “It's listening to devotions when a player is speaking from her heart about something that makes her happy or even something that makes her cry. When you hear these things, you really feel like you know that person’s heart and what's in it. It makes you want to coach as hard as you can so they always know the feeling of winning and never the pain that comes with defeat.”
This locker room culture most definitely translates to the court. The PACS community, other schools and coaches, and even referees have taken note that this team is fun to watch. On the court is a cohesive team that performs consistently and works together. On the bench is also a support worth noting — girls on their feet cheering for their friends, helping if they get hurt, handing over their waters in moments of exhaustion, offering hugs and squeezes during challenging moments, and praying together before and after games. What is missing is the griping, complaining, jealousy, and pettiness often associated with girls’ teams.
Coach Palmer also acknowledges the partnership he has with PACS parents who, as a group, have been very supportive of the team through the years. “Three things I always know about my team when they walk out of the locker room: they are going to play hard, they are going to be themselves — Christian young women, and they are going to fight until the clock says zero. All of these intangibles they brought to the table a long time ago, and it is a behavior their parents have raised them with.”
With the inclement weather last week, the 2015-16 Athens Area Middle School Basketball League Tournament was canceled. Ironically, the girls had a quiet finish to their remarkable run with the final victory of their last regular middle school season game. They celebrated that win like any other — with hugs and high fives, lined up to acknowledge the opposing team, gathered their belongings, and casually walked off of the court together for the very last time.
The team finished their middle school basketball careers 57-0, an accomplishment they will carry for the rest of their lives. Many of these girls will, without a doubt, go on to have impressive high school and even college careers, but they will never forget the years they spent together as a middle school team.
Coach Palmer credits this PACS team with establishing a tradition that will remain for the girls coming behind them. “I tell my players that successful programs have the motto ‘Tradition Never Graduates’. This philosophy allows closure for each of us – a passing of the torch to the players that will be putting on the Prince jersey in the future.”
Ultimately, however, Coach Palmer, his team, their parents, and the PACS community understand that this has been a unique moment in time. Palmer concludes, “This middle school basketball program is rich and vibrant because thirteen 8th graders have cared enough to give their very best. Many chapters have yet to be written, but the 2015-16 basketball 8th graders have added to the outstanding tradition that is PACS middle school girls basketball.”
Pictured left to right:
(back row) Coach Tim Hall, Lindsay Rogers, Kelly Cascella, Sybille Foucart, Riley Wilson, Niyah Beasley, Mackenzie Case, Ivey Meeks, Lauren Rowell, Caroline Middlebrooks, and Coach Michael Palmer.
(front row) Aleah Crane, Kathryn Anne Frierson, Ansley Hall, Maggie Campbell, and Maggie Allen.
Coach Michael Palmer with his team and on the sideline.