OLYMPIA - The seven boys on the Pope John Paul II basketball team comprise three-fourths of the male students at the first-year Catholic high school in Lacey.
The players’ skill levels vary.
Dakota Mello has been playing basketball since middle school. His nifty crossover moves and soft shot speak volumes about his game.
Spencer Adams has never played on an organized basketball team, but turned out because of the “really cool opportunity.”
“This is a new area for me,” said Adams, a sophomore. “How often do you get to start off being the first?”
In a season of firsts, the Eagles’ six-game schedule came to an end Thursday night at St. Michael Catholic School.
The Eagles of Pope John Paul II lost, 60-25, to the Eagles of Three Rivers Christian, and finished with an 0-6 record.
The past eight weeks has been a rewarding experience for the first-year program competing in Class 1B. The seven players are proud to be the pioneers for future Eagles who will don the navy blue and gold.
“It’s really exciting to be the first basketball team,” said Mello, the sophomore point guard who scored a team-best 15 points Thursday. “It would be really cool to see teams in the future and use us as role models.”
It was uncertain if Pope John Paul II would offer sports in its first year when the school opened in September.
But students’ interest made it happen. Trying to create an athletic department for a school with 20 students presented challenges. But it came with victories, too.
Seven girls turned out to play volleyball. The team had a three-match independent schedule in the fall.
Next came boys basketball.
The team had two “home” facilities – Faith Lutheran Church and School for practices, and St. Michael Catholic School for “home” games. The gyms aren’t regulation size, but they suited their needs.
“They’ve done an incredible job,” co-head coach Ron Edwards said of his players, “ getting better every game and practice.”
Edwards is co-head coach with Herman Sepulveda. In fact, Edwards wears many hats at the school. In addition to co-head coach, he’s the school’s founding principal and athletic director.
The Eagles played an independent schedule, and are members of the Columbia Valley 2B/1B League, which features schools in Southwest Washington – Columbia Adventist, King’s Way Christian, Seton Catholic, Three Rivers Christian, Vancouver Christian, and Washington School for the Deaf.
Following Thursday’s game, Edwards awarded the players, as well as members of the volleyball team, their first varsity letters and certificates. Harjot Virk was named the team’s best defensive player and also was credited for coming out to give the team its seventh player.
“One of the things that has been, and I hope it continues to be part of our culture, is we played with heart,” Edwards told the crowd. “And I don’t think we can ask for more from our young people today.”
There are 10 boys and 10 girls at the Catholic school, and 90 percent of them attended games. No crowd was larger than Thursday’s, as approximately 70 fans cheered for every basket as though it was the game-winner. PJP2 trailed early in the second quarter, 22-4.
“It’s been really inspiring to see all these people dedicated and here to support us,” Mello said.
“Without that kind of support and without that kind of commitment, I don’t think we’d be the same school that we’ve turned out to be,” Edwards said.
Final exams took place this week, and starting Monday, the students and staff will be in their new permanent school at 5608 Pacific Ave. S.E., at the recently renovated old Lacey firehouse.
A new beginning starts Monday, but Adams, Mello, Virk, John Johnson, Austin Mathis, Radric Marapao and Monte Roden already have made names for themselves – and have established history for Pope John Paul II High.
“It was the dedication that the players showed,” said Roden, a freshman post. “Every player was always trying, even at the end (of games). I’m really happy about what we did.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/prepsportsblog