Don’t count out Eagles just yet

It’s not everyday you watch dozens of kids pretend to ride a rollercoaster while sitting in the bleachers at a high school basketball game.

The ring leader, who stands in front of the John F. Kennedy student section during this rendition, raises his hands high, and everyone sits way back in their seats like they’re cruising down a big hill. He moves his arms to the left, and the kids scream as they all shift that way, pretending to be making a big turn. He quickly switches to the right, and the crowd joins by swiftly changing direction and yelling louder. Then the make-believe coaster (no, Manti Te’o isn’t on it) really gets going and starts moving faster and faster, going left, right, up, down and every which way.

It’s pretty entertaining stuff, and that’s only part of their act. They also do back flips during timeouts and run around the gym with a huge stick that carries a John F. Kennedy flag at its top. Most of the time, a good percentage of the students are bare chested with red, white and blue paint from head to toe.

Needless to say, they love their Eagles.

And that’s not an easy task these days.

Kennedy is 3-10, has lost seven in a row and its last win was nearly a month ago (Dec. 21 against Holy Name). Coach Shawn Pompelia held a meeting with the starters after a lackluster performance against Girard in which the Eagles’ offense looked downright pitiful at times. Pompelia didn’t divulge what was said during the near 30-minute talk, but he placed blame for Kennedy’s problems squarely on himself.

“This is on me,” he said. “The issues we’re having and the lack of production, it’s on me. This is my fault. It’s something I need to correct. I need to get the kids playing the way we (the coaching staff) think they can be playing.”

Pompelia followed that statement up by saying, “I know what needs fixed, and we’re going to get it fixed.” And personally, I believe him.

The Eagles are a talented basketball team. Their record might not indicate that, but there is a solid mixture of skill. There are players who can drive to the basket, others who can post up, shooters who can knock down the 3 and tall, athletic players who can defend and rebound. They play in a brutal conference – one of the best in northeast Ohio – so they’re probably going to continue to struggle for a little while longer, but if this team buys in to what Pompelia is preaching, the rest of Division IV better watch out come tournament time.

The most pressing issues for the Eagles are free throws and consistency, especially on offense. There are times where they look like a force to be reckoned with (against Howland, for example) and others where they look confused and lack effort (ie. most of the Girard game). Those spells will doom them in big matchups during the postseason, but as Pompelia said after the Girard loss, those are correctable mistakes.

The fact of the matter is the talent is there, and when that’s the case, deep runs into the postseason are possible. Their starting five can hang with almost anyone in the area, and their bench isn’t bad either. They have good leaders who have experienced big moments in football and basketball (they’ve made two straight district final appearances), but if they don’t start focusing on creating a stronger chemistry on both sides of the ball, that run will never transpire. As a coach once told me, there are no little things – everything matters.

If Kennedy can grasp that concept, good things will happen – and not just in the stands.