April 19, 2014

Medina
Mostly sunny
54°F

Boys basketball: Pirates have every reason to smile

Whether it’s Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell or Diana Ross behind the microphone, the lyrics are still the same.

‘Cause baby there ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you

The Black River boys basketball players and cheerleaders couldn’t help but belt the former No. 1 hit at the top of their lungs Saturday night on the 20-minute bus ride home from Mapleton.

They also sang Christmas carols, busted out the ridiculously popular “I believe that we have won” chant, synchronized “You’re our
he-ro” while looking at 25-year-old athletic director/interim coach Josh Calame and smiled, laughed and tweeted until their hearts were
content.

It all ended after the victory bell in front of the high school echoed throughout corner of land where Lorain, Medina and Ashland counties meet.

For as brief as they may have been, the moments were magical.

“The bus ride was crazy,” senior Stephen Zumack said. “It wasn’t silent like it normally is. Everybody was up in their seat jumping around. It was great. It was like a big party.

“We hadn’t been able to ring that bell in two years. It was nice.”

There was no mountain high enough, no valley low enough, no river wide enough to stop the Pirates.

Final score: Black River 51, Mapleton 44. The losing streak that made the program semi-famous for all the wrong reasons ended at 49.

“It’s about time. That’s the only thing that comes to my head,” Zumack said. “I think we deserved (the win) because even if we lost by a lot, we’re still trying our hardest, you know? It’s just sometimes we’re not all there. Saturday, we were all there.”

It was a 750-day journey filled with heartbreak. Tyler Potter and Zumack had been on it since a resounding 54-28 victory over Open Door on Dec. 2, 2011.

Black River had a legitimate reason to be optimistic after that game. The Patriots had defeated the Pirates the previous season, but Black River still finished the year with eight wins.

The only thing that followed was false hope.

What began with a 63-43 loss to Brooklyn seven days later snowballed with the fury of an avalanche. It then took 26 games for Black River to lose by single digits — without coincidence, that was against Mapleton.

There were losses by 51, 48, 48, 47 and 45 points, and that’s not even mentioning a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me 96-32 defeat to Clearview last December.

There also wasn’t a calming influence after previous coaches Don Brunker and Cynthia Berry resigned and Barry Balderson was ousted after the first two games of this season.

Potter and Zumack had every reason to quit after playing in all but a handful of those 49 games. The local media pointed out the length of the streak after nearly every game, and at a school already known for its notoriously poor support of the basketball program — Potter joked his classmates thought the losing streak was “cool” simply because it was a record — visiting fans outnumbered the Pirates’ on a consistent basis.

They also weren’t shy about reminding Black River players of their “accomplishment.”

“Buckeye’s student section the other day (Friday during a 78-30 Black River loss) was like, ‘Have you ever won a game?”‘ Potter said with a grin. “I just laughed and I was like, ‘I don’t know, man.”‘

Still, Zumack and Potter didn’t quit.

“Putting all the time in and not having anything to show for it was the most frustrating part,” Zumack said. “It means a lot more to (Potter and me) because we were the ones that broke the streak.”

“This was overdue,” Potter added. “We earned it.”

It was hard for the players to keep things in perspective because extended losing is so painful.

The reality? It could have been exponentially worse.

One doesn’t have to look far for examples, as the Black River football team was winless over 52 games from 1961-67. Things were so bad the program was disbanded, only to be brought back because the Inland Conference threatened a lawsuit over scheduling contracts.

As for basketball, a town not too far down the road, Litchfield, opened the 1947-48 season — its last before merging with York — with a 113-20 loss to Belden. Things never got better, and the Orange and Black closed the year with a 98-15 defeat to Seville at the Medina County Tournament.

The question was posed anyway: What is the state record for longest losing streak? Black River had to be getting close, right?

Nope.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association doesn’t keep such a list, but another nearby defunct school, Wayne County’s Mount Eaton Pirates — oh, the irony — lost 100 straight from the late-1940s until clipping Fredericksburg 39-35 on Feb. 5, 1954.

Therein lies the proof of Potter believed all along: Black River isn’t as bad as everyone thinks.

“The score never indicated how good of a team we were,” Potter said. “It was a lot of little things that added up to big things. I always thought we were better than 49 losses.”

One victory over a Mapleton team that has lost 137 of its last 156 games doesn’t sound like much on paper. There are still other streaks to break — like 37 Patriot Athletic Conference games and 23 at home.

However, never underestimate this undeniable fact: No one is thinking about that annoying overall skid anymore, giving Black River the first block to lay a foundation that has been non-existent since the late-1960s.

Part of the credit for that goes to Calame, who was put in an incredibly tough situation and, because of that, deserves a chance to earn the job.

When it was looking for a replacement for retiring AD Bruce Lorincz, the administration was adamant that coaching would not be a part of the equation.

Calame accepted those terms even though he always desired to be a varsity basketball coach after assistant stops at the College of Wooster, Defiance College and his alma mater, Northwestern High.

But the status quo changed when Calame was forced to the bench, and it’s obvious the players already have embraced him. A lot of has to do with his extreme personality contrast from the intense Balderson, but most of it has to do with an invaluable communication tool: Calame’s youth.

For the first time in two years, the Black River players believe in something.

They believe there ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough and ain’t no river wide enough to keep them from getting a victory — again and again and again.

That’s the most powerful emotion of all.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.