TEGA CAY — Editor's note: Monday night, the Gold Hill Middle School eighth grade boys' basketball team ended a winless streak spanning two seasons with a 53-46 win over Clover. The game was not played in time for the results to appear in the Jan. 9 print edition of the Fort Mill Times.
Its early on a Saturday morning and Frank L. Dickerson is hard at work, his eyes giving off a steely glimmer of determination. As hip-hop music pumps life into the Gold Hill Middle School gymnasium, Coach Dickerson and his eighth grade basketball team are busy working toward one goal winning their first game in nearly two seasons.
While this may be his first year with the school, Dickerson knows that the memories of last years 0-10 season still haunt the hallways and weigh on the minds of the students. Dickerson says they have been close awfully close in several of their matchups this year, but after an 0-6 start to this years campaign, the general lack of faith from parents and peers regarding the teams inability to cement a victory has become both an albatross and a symbol of motivation.
They expect us to lose, said backup point guard Aiden Simpson.
While Dickerson has spent an extensive amount of time strategizing game plans and working with his eighth graders to help improve their fundamentals on the court, he says that perhaps the bigger challenge has come off the court in trying to keep everyone on the team in a positive frame of mind.
Sometimes you get pushed around on the court and sometimes in school you get pushed around as well, but youve still gotta show up, youve still got to stand your ground, Dickerson said.
And they do.
While they might still remain winless this year, the Bulldogs have gone from a limp to a swagger in recent weeks. In contrast to a trend of blowout losses last year, many of Gold Hills recent games have been close affairs. In two of their games, against both Banks Trail and Springfield, they were edged out by only one point with buzzer beaters in the waning moments.
Call it unlucky, call it unfortunate, but dont ever call them unwilling to take on the next challenge. Backup shooting guard Kyle Arrage says the setbacks dont change what they have set out to achieve.
I just think its good that weve been on a losing streak but were still out here trying to win no matter what other people might say, we come out every day and just try and get better, Arrage said.
On Monday, the Bulldogs of Tega Cays Gold Hill Middle School had another crack at a victory in their rematch with Clover. Earlier in the season, they lost by only six points.
We should have beat them, but we didnt finish, said Joey Tepper, Gold Hills starting point guard.
Dickerson, who has spent several years as a coach and mentor to at-risk youth in the Rock Hill community, stressed that hard work, game planning and practice are only part of the equation.
Some of their parents were really good basketball players and they want to live their life through their kids, he said. Well, theres a time when you have to let a kid be a kid and thats what I try to do. We go out and play laser tag together, we play football, and then we pick up again with practice and go hard, so theres a balance, Dickerson said.
Its hard not to get caught up in this streak and the pressures that accompany this team from week to week, but as the Saturday morning practice began its later stages, a completely different scenario unfolded, and Dickerson was more than happy to keep it a secret. Its the kind of transformation that anxious parents, fellow students who roam the halls and those they share the same classrooms with might never understand.
Its about having fun and being able to play basketball, said backup point guard Aiden Simpson.
As they hustle up and down the court and dive for balls, with every rebound and no-look pass, these students and their coach have strengthened their bond with each other and with the game of basketball. Smiles shined across every face, applause and high fives became the reactions to shots that swish, and they fell into rhythm once again. As all the pressure to win faded out, it was replaced by the rawness of an endorphin flush, the physical expression found in sport.
If this is what losing looks like, we should all be so lucky.
Some might say that teams often take on the personality of their coach. When asked if the Bulldogs were going to win on Monday, Dickerson grinned and alluded to radical changes already taking shape in Gold Hills basketball culture.
Everybody loves to play Gold Hill because they know theyre gonna automatically get a win. When you come to Gold Hill you see the Bulldog and you see pride. We want to make sure that they know that when they come here, were gonna fight from start to finish, he said.
Someday, this losing streak will come to an end. For now, the Gold Hill Middle School Bulldogs seem content in letting their peers and parents worry more about the urgency to win. This is a team that will continue to develop its passion for playing this game, which perhaps might be the best way to forget about the disappointments of the past.