by Pete Mazzaccaro
Ed Aversa, assistant director of athletics at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, has been a coach at the school for more than 30 years. He’s coached football, basketball and has been with championship teams in the past.
But this last season of SCH’s middle school basketball might be the best season he’s ever had coaching. The team won the Inter-Ac with a perfect 18-0 record, beating rival Germantown Academy in back-to-back end-of-season games to seal the deal.
“I’ve never coached a team that was this talented, this hard working and this much of a team,” Aversa said. “They were fun to work with from day one.”
The team, Aversa said, is the only one he knows of in the school’s more than 150 years to go undefeated at the middle school level.
“These guys were just a team,” Aversa said. “The made every practice fun. Every Game. There are teams where guys might respect each other but not necessarily like each other. These guys were all tight. They were friends. I think that had a lot to do with it.”
Throughout the season, Aversa said, his players rose to every occasion, even from the team’s first real test, a 20-team tournament in which it beat all comers, including a very talented AAU (American Athletic Union) team – the Ambler Patriots. AAU teams are not school specific, but rather regional all-star teams that draw top talent for year-round competition.
“At that point I knew we had something special.”
The rest of the season, the team continued to meet every challenge, including a highlight mid-season meet against Malvern that came down to free throws in the final minute.
SCH was up two in the final minute of play when Malvern missed a shot that was rebounded by seventh-grader Mason Banks. Banks was fouled and Aversa called him over for a pep talk.
“I told him to take a deep breath, bend his knees and have fun,” Aversa said. “He looks at me and says, ‘Coach, I got this.’ He goes out and swish, swish. We go up by four to win. I couldn’t believe it – he wasn’t fazed at all. You can’t teach that.”
The season came near a conclusion with both Germantown Academy and SCH owning 16-0 records with back-to-back matches scheduled. To win the InterAc, either team had to sweep. Otherwise, both would finished tied and share the InterAc title. There are no playoffs at the middle school level.
By this time, the team’s accomplishments had spread beyond the players’ friends and family. Gyms were filled with high school players, coaches and others who were eager to see if the team could continue its streak and close the season with a championship.
SCH won the first game 57 to 47 at home. It followed with a decisive 52 to 39 win at GA.
Aversa isn’t the only one who will remember the year fondly. The players have been wearing Inter-Ac championship T-shirts around school and say they are thrilled to have done what no other middle school team has done at SCH before.
“It was a great experience for me,” said player Sean Simon. “Playing with the team, I became closer with my teammates and Coach Ed. It was great to do this just coming in as an eighth grader. This made me closer with the school for many more years to come.”
“We just had the chemistry for each other and the desire to go against anybody,” said Austin Lemke “We all shared a special bond, whether you were a seventh grader or eighth grader, and we won together as a team. It was special to be on this team, and I’m glad we made school history with this group of kids.”
“Winning the Inter Ac was fantastic,” said Mason Banks. “It meant a lot to me because some of our players have either been with the team for awhile and not have done very well or are changing schools, so I was happy to see them win the Inter-Ac before they left.
“Even thought I didn’t really play that much, I still had a lot of fun cheering the starting five,” said Philip Burckhardt. “But the best moment of the season was when we were walking on to the court at GA. We all saw and said the same thing: There was no 3-point line. But coach pulled us over and told us everything we had to do. After the game, it felt so good that we beat them even though they didn’t give us a 3-point line.”
“Coach Bob and Coach Ed taught me a lot of things during the season, on and off the court,” Cole Cucinatta. “When the buzzer went off after the game, I was in shock to know that we were the first team in 154 years at CHA to go 18-0, and win the Middle School Inter-Ac Championship, of course.”
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