Penn Charter eighth-grader Mark Butler works around a defender Friday. In his first Inter-Ac contest, Butler predictably struggled. The future is bright for the youngster, however, as varsity minutes and experience are one of the surest ways to success for talented young players. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

The result of Friday’s game between Penn Charter and the Haverford School wasn’t particularly remarkable.

The Fords handily beat an overmatched PC team 71-43. This much was to be expected; Haverford School is the odds-on favorite to win the Inter-Ac and is one of if not the best teams in the state. That score won’t end up being what counts, though. Instead, be the interstitial moments between quarters, possessions and baskets will leave a mark on current and future Quaker players.

Penn Charter has a brand-new head coach in John Owens, an eighth-grader running the point, as well as a couple of freshmen who saw heavy minutes in the rotation. When Penn Charter dueled the Fords to a near-tie at halftime, Owens was thrilled.

“I’m grateful an opportunity to go against one of the best teams in the area,” Owens said. “I was excited to see where we were, and for a half, we competed.”

“It shows us that we’re halfway to a championship team, so that’s encouraging,” he went on. “It was a great experience aside from the loss.”

PC’s first half featured a balanced scoring effort, led by eight points from freshman Colin Schumm and another six from Ryan Holmes. That they were making baskets prevented HS from running a transition offense, the Fords’ true strength behind the talent of senior forward and La Salle commit Christian Ray.

“We stuck with the game plan by eliminating their transition game,” Owens said, of his Quakers who went into the third quarter down just 26-25. “They weren’t really prepared for some of the stuff we threw at them initially.”

“But their coach made some good adjustments,” he went on.

It’s what fourth-year Haverford School coach Bernie Rogers does – they aren’t the defending league champs for nothing. In the second half, Penn Charter’s shooting hands went cold and before they knew it, the Fords were flying.

“With any level of basketball, teams make shots and teams miss shots,” Owens said. “When we started missing shots and had a few unforced turnovers, they were able to get away from us a little bit.”

Ray scored eight in the third to help balloon the lead to 49-35, and another nine in the fourth to push the lead past 20. By then, each team’s subs were in.

Schumm wound up leading PC with 10, and Holmes was the next-closest with the six he scored in the second quarter. Ray finished with 30, the best showing across all three games played that night.

Characteristic of its teams in recent years, Penn Charter (8-5, 0-1) has one player around whom to build an offense (Holmes) and a bunch of pieces around him who sometimes fit together awkwardly. Butler has scored in double figures in almost half of the team’s games, but that ratio figures to dwindle as the team wades into Inter-Ac play. Elsewhere, junior Aaron Reisman has delivered a spark and senior Dylan Topaz provides energy off the bench.

“We started off strong for having a new coaching staff and a young team,” Owens said. “I don’t think we have any egos. When players see that, they buy in.”

“The kids are coming each day, competing and trying to make each other better,” he went on.

That is perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his team, and the best harbinger of future success for a new coach: up and down the roster, players are visibly unselfish. Even the older guys – players who know that they don’t fit into the long-term picture of the program – are as happy for their young teammates’ success as they are their own, even if it comes at the cost of their playing time.

In the second quarter, Schumm made a standout play by rising to block a Haverford shot. Blocks are exciting but not infrequent, but senior Brendan Thomas was nonetheless leaping all around the Penn Charter bench in celebration.

Thomas is a captain, and someone who just finished a football season in which he likely played north of 75 percent of Penn Charter’s snaps. On the basketball roster, he’s relegated to the seventh or eighth man in the rotation, despite likely having enough length and hustle to crack the starting roster on a rebuilding team. Not all seniors are as gracious about sitting the bench, and Owens is grateful for it.

“He knows he has a role to play,” Owens said. “He’s very important, and he understands that we’re playing for the future as much as we are the present. He knows he’s got to get the young guys ready to compete at that level.”

On a play in the second half, Butler – who is almost a half-decade younger than many of his opponents – went up for a layup, missed and fell hard to the ground. Senior Ryan Maloney (whose style of play is the sort that you hate when you’re a fan of the other team but love when he’s on yours) helped him up and jogged the first few steps back toward the other end with his arm around Butler’s shoulders.

It was brief and nonverbal, but the gesture was a perfect representation of the culture Owens is trying to build.

“This is just one of the bumps in our journey,” he said. “I have an opportunity and an obligation to prepare these kids for life after high school and life after basketball.”

“That’s how I see this game: a tool to help young men become grown men,” he went on. “I’m ecstatic about that opportunity and it’s what I love the most about it.”

PC: 8 17 10 8: 43
HS: 11 15 23 22: 71

Penn Charter: Colin Schumm 4 0-0 10; Ryan Holmes 2 2-2 6; Ryan Maloney 1 3-5 5; Aaron Reisman 2 0-0 5; Anthony Ciarrocchi 1 0-0 3; Jayce Dyer 1 0-0 3; Isaiah Grimes 1 0-0 3; Brendan Thomas 1 0-0 3; Dylan Topaz 1 0-0 3; Mark Butler 1 0-1 2.

Haverford School: Christian Ray 12 6-7 30; Asim Richards 6 0-0 13; Jameel Brown 4 0-0 10; Tyler Seward 3 1-2 7; MJ Atkins 1 1-2 3; Zach Genther 1 0-0 3; Bernie Rogers 1 0-0 3; Dante Perri 1 0-0 2.

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