First Grade Fast Break

Nowhere is the intensity of Lower School sports teams more apparent than the blood, sweat and tears of the first-grade basketball court.

First grader Timmy Strauss glares down the opposition.

A frenzy of untied basketball shoes, reversible blue-and-gold uniforms and multicolored sweatbands ravenously swarm the basketball like a pack of wolves – and it’s only the warm up.

The first graders – all on the same Lions basketball team – disperse into layup lines strictly run by head coach Scott Ziegler (the school’s ceramics instructor and father of first grader Logan Ziegler).

And as the two minute warm-up clock dwindles to the last seconds, most of the little Lions wander over to half court to recite the “YMCA Pledge” and – more importantly – to stare down their arch-rivals: the Good Shepherd Cougars.

While most sports fans upon hearing “basketball rivalry” think of the decades long struggle between Blue Devils and Tar Heels or the back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals bouts between Cleveland and Golden State, the tension, competitiveness and pure energy between the Cougars and Lions tops rivalries at both the college and professional levels.

To fuel the rivalry even more, the teams face off with a set of modified rules to keep the game clean. League regulations require both the Lions and Cougars to run strict man-to-man coverage, with each player only allowed to guard the member of the opposite team wearing the same color wristband as him.

And to dial back the effect of defensive juggernauts like the Lions’ very own Timmy Strauss, the referee enforces a unforgiving, uncompromising “no steals” rule until the ball crosses half-court.

The game got off to a slow start, looking after the first five minutes as though it might end as another low-scoring thriller, typical of the YMCA first grade basketball league.

But just into the sixth minute of the game, after grabbing a rebound just inside the three-point line, Logan Ziegler sprinted down the court and scored a layup for the first basket of the game.

For the rest of the first half, the Lions went off, scoring a dozen more points before the horn went off at the end of the second quarter.

“Our offense was remarkable,” Scott Ziegler said. “Better than ever.”

On top of that, the Lions played stellar man-to-man defense throughout the entire first half, holding their opponents to only three points at the half.

The Lions started off the second half with a bang, too, as forward Jake Wilkinson opened up the third quarter with an early basket from inside the paint. He, just like his coach, believes the key to winning the game was their offense.

“I think we won that game because we scored more points than the other team in both halves,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson would end up finishing the game with a double-double, totaling 14 points and 11 rebounds. The performance mirrors the rest of the team’s defensive effectiveness, a trend he hopes to continue as their season nears its close.

“I think the best thing that happened the most on defense,” Strauss said, “was how we stuck to our men and dodged enough balls so that our team could score the most points.”

Wilkinson, Strauss and Ziegler all agree that winning that heated 36-minute rivalry match, which ended with a score of 24-8, was “awesome.”