Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
GLENWOOD — In 1960, gas was 31 cents, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States, and Hawaii had just earned its statehood.
1960 also marked the last time New Boston had won a district title — until this past Thursday.
With a 64-53 victory over Trimble, the Tigers — with a graduating class of approximately 12 in 2019 — arguably serve as a present-day version of the David Anspaugh-directed 1986 film “Hoosiers.”
That film arguably profiles the most inspiring story of high school basketball history as Hickory High School — based off of the actual Milan High School in Milan, Ind. — won the 1954 Indiana High School Boys Basketball Tournament Championship over storied powerhouse Muncie Central with an enrollment of just 161 students across its four high school grade levels.
Could the Village of New Boston have a similar story to tell by the time it’s all said and done? New Boston, as well as its counterparts around the county, can only hope.
But for Grady Jackson and Malachi Potts, the journey has already been fantastic … no matter how it ends up being sliced.
“It means everything to me,” Jackson said. “It’s not only making history but what my team and I have created and done is something special. I’ve dreamed about playing at the Convo ever since I was little. Being a freshman and being blessed on a team where I have that opportunity and the capability to start is truly a dream come true.”
Potts echoed those sentiments.
“Honestly, it feels like I just won the Super Bowl or the World Series,” Potts said. “It’s one of those indescribable feelings you have in life where you only understand if you’ve went through it. Last year, when we lost to South Webster, everyone kept saying, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and ‘God has a plan. You may not understand it now but he works in mysterious ways.’ I didn’t understand that until now. Losing that game was by far the best thing that happened to our team. It made us feel defeat to a certain degree to where we never wanted to feel it again. It showed us how high the level of urgency and seriousness has to be to win at the Convo. Winning these games and going this far hasn’t just given us the best times of our lives, but it has reunited our community, changed players’ lives, and changed the culture of New Boston. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”
When taking a glance between that 1954 Milan team and the 2019 New Boston unit, one may not see a ton of similarities at first.
Milan went 19-2 in the regular season before reeling off nine straight wins, including the famed 32-30 victory over Muncie Central, to claim what’s known as one of, if not the, most unlikely high school championships in school history — even though Milan returned four of its five starters from the 1953 squad, a unit that went to the state Final Four itself.
They played a slower brand of basketball.
This year’s New Boston squad sits with an 19-6 overall mark in a classified system and only returned two of its five starters [Kyle Sexton and Tyler Caldwell] from the 2018 unit — a team that broke down significant barriers in winning the school’s first sectional championship since 2000, but failed to advance out of the district semifinal round.
New Boston, unlike their Milan counterparts, like to run, and run often.
That, however, is where the differences end, and the similarities begin.
New Boston, which has a total combined enrollment of 101 boys and girls, is comparable to Milan’s total enrollment of 161 kids. Milan suffered two single-digit losses in the regular season en route to its history making run, while New Boston has taken five single-digit defeats into the tourney.
Both players featured one do-it-all youngster [Bobby Plump, aka Jimmy Chitwood, for Milan; Kyle Sexton for New Boston] and a group of players around the pair who are strong talents in their own right.
Most importantly, New Boston is a team that — like Milan — is playing its best basketball at the right time.
There’s Sexton, a double-double machine at 6-foot-5, who can stretch the defense with his ability to shoot at the 3-point line. There’s Caldwell, who has skills rarely seen from a 6-foot-7 body, from a shooting standpoint.
There’s Jackson, Potts and Jerome McKinley, who are all bulldog defenders with the ability to knock down the open look, make the extra pass, or create havoc in the open floor. Then, there’s Marcus Saunders, who is an energetic wing who thrives as a slasher and as a corner jump shooter.
It’s a six-man rotation that may be thin on numbers and girth. But it’s one that’s certainly not thin on energy.
Add in the coaching expertise that Adam Cox, Corey Allison, Roger Hall, Anthony Maynard, Brandon Herrforth, Kade Conley, and Shane Buckley bring to the table, and it’s truly scary to think about, as far as game-planning is concerned.
“They have really showed me what it means to create a family and a brotherhood,” Jackson said of his teammates and coaches. “I know that every individual on that team will have my back and I will have theirs. They have made me feel like this is my home and that no matter what circumstances or where you come from, you always have people with you for the ride. Coach Cox, coach Allison, and coach Hall have shown me love and treated me as a son. They have steered me on the right path, and not only on the court, but off of the court as well. They preach being better than you were the day before and to never give up.”
In Potts’ eyes, the ability of the unit to embrace the different roles it’s been given has made New Boston better for the wear and tear down the stretch.
“It showed me that it’s about more than basketball,” Potts said. “You have to be there for more than just basketball. You build such a strong relationship and trust to where your brothers come to you for advice about anything. I feel like I’m the big brother of the team. Anyone knows they can come to me with any problem and I’m going to be real with them. It shows who really has your back and who really loves you.”
That, in many different aspects, has been evident throughout the year.
It was evident when New Boston came back from failing to close the deal at South Webster earlier in the year [a 63-61 defeat] to triumphing in a tough road contest at Symmes Valley by a 77-75 margin in double overtime.
It was evident when New Boston, after blowing a 16-point third quarter lead against Whiteoak en route to losing 63-57, came back three days later to stifle Green on the road by a 75-57 margin — a win that Cox referred to as “the biggest of his career” at the time.
Tough buzzer-beating defeats to Eastern and South Point were sandwiched in tight during the middle of the year, but New Boston recovered from the latter to win 11 of its last 12 games. And even more impressively, New Boston has done so without the services of Potts for a third of the year due to a lower body injury the sixth man suffered against East on Dec. 11.
It was arguably his ability to take his injury in stride, and accept a lesser role on his team, that allowed the Tigers to keep chugging along.
“That injury made my basketball perspective go from a 16-year-old to a 25-year-old,” Potts said. “Sitting next to Corey and seeing and hearing the mistakes of players first-hand makes you grow exponentially. I became a coach for the games I was out. It’s not always easy being the leader and ruining the fun when it’s time to be serious. But as a player, hearing things from another player puts a whole different perspective on things. A coach and a player can say the same exact things in the same tone, but hearing it from your brother or from your coach can have two totally different outcomes. It can spark a player or ignite a player. Those games brought out the leader I had deep down inside of me.”
Jackson and McKinley, who are quite similar in their style of play, have become rarities as freshmen, in terms of their overall poise and ability to handle pressure-packed situations. In fact, Cox has referred to the pair as ‘Dem boys’ — a reference to his favorite NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys — for their constant energy and intensity on the court.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have a coach believing and having that type of confidence in us,” Jackson said. “Even as freshmen, he trusts us playing with upperclassmen.”
He certainly has a reason to have confidence, simply based off the postseason run the Tigers have made. Against East, New Boston was able to sweep its arch-rival and defeat the Tartans for a third time en route to its second consecutive Division IV sectional championship.
Then, after jumping out to a 23-20 opening quarter advantage over South Webster, the Tigers overcame a 37-33 halftime deficit, and a 54-51 fourth quarter deficit with less than three minutes to go en route to a long-awaited, 63-60 revenge victory over the Jeeps.
Then, of course, there’s the district final — where New Boston, once again, overcame a halftime deficit [28-22] to win going away.
This time, the victim was Glouster Trimble.
“To be a district champion is a different kind of feeling,” Jackson said. “It’s a feeling that just makes you feel like everything you’ve worked for has paid off. Plus, being the first team since 1960 to do it is something else. We are looked at as one of the greatest New Boston teams ever. I couldn’t feel more loved and appreciated by the community. The village has shown us so much support it’s crazy. It may be a small town but we are all together. It’s a dream come true.”
This much is clear: regardless of whether or not New Boston’s boys basketball program makes a run similar to the one Milan did 55 years ago, the Tigers have already won, and are playing on house money regardless of what happens Tuesday evening against Berne Union.
Why? Because the Village of New Boston is officially loud and proud, again.
“I think every basketball fan has seen the movie Hoosiers, and it’s a great story,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve brought the idea of that up close and personal, in a sense. Though our town is small and we have a small school, we have beaten the odds and remained humble through it all.”
And without their small town and small school, none of it would be possible.
“A lot of this has to do with the support of our community,” Potts said. “Honestly, it’s a family now. They feed us everyday, lead us out of the Village, and are waiting for us when we arrive back home. The amount of support they give us is unmeasurable. Win or lose, they make us feel like urban legends. We have the best fans. No question.”