Our old friend Webster tells me that “perseverance” is the steadfastness in doing something, despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Well, Webster must have heard about the Springfield High School boys’ basketball team. They are a perfect example of perseverance. They had not won a game in so long, I lost track.
Those words are in no way shortchanging this particular team. I had actually truly forgotten when they last won. I did know it had been a very long time.
The truth is, it had been more than three seasons. Springfield lost 69 games in a row. They had two winless seasons and lost their last 12 games the season before all that. They lost their first 17 games this season. And then… they beat Hartford 55-44.
A celebration is definitely in order. The victory triggers the fun, but for the most part, we should be celebrating a group of student athletes who spent a considerable amount of time trying to win one basketball game. The team in the Cosmos uniform when the losing streak began could already be juniors in college or have a solid start in contributing their professional talents to life in one way or another.
The team in uniform for that first winless season could be college sophomores or could have one less year of work experience than the first group I referred to. The second winless group graduated last June and have been out pursuing what’s next for over eight months.
What I’m getting at is, no one has to ever teach these groups about perseverance; they all have already passed just about every test imaginable. They are winners just by showing up every day. This includes their coach Michael Ruppel.
Ruppel began his Cosmos coaching career in November 2015. I sat next to his bench in a game early that season and although his group was not very talented, it was clear to me his instructions were right on. Ruppel is a classroom teacher at Springfield who receives many raves on his classroom work and I sometimes wonder what it must be like for him not seeing any tangible result in the win column on the basketball court?
Last Friday night in the win over Hartford, Noah Zierfus led the team with 14 points and Dakota Bushey added 13. Although Springfield won the game, they persevered despite the fact both of their high scorers were in foul trouble throughout. This team is accustomed to doing nothing the easy way.
Ruppel tells me, “I was really proud of the kids. We didn’t play our best basketball, but they were gritty and really worked hard for 32 minutes, which made a difference. It would have been easy for the kids to coast out after losing so much this season, but they go hard in practice and in games every day and consistently work together.”
Back on the court, Brenden Dwinell hit a couple of late threes to pad a Springfield lead and help propel the team to victory. Ruppel also pointed out, “We had to rely on some guys off the bench for longer stretches because of the foul trouble. Kyle Monier gave us a lot of defense and energy, Cam Harbeson played good defense, and JJ LeCouffee had some big rebounds and blocked shots in the fourth quarter.”
I asked Ruppell about the crowd, and he said, “They were great. They gave us a lot of energy down the stretch. The girls’ team was there and they really kept the crowd going.”
I spoke to former Cosmos coach Pete Peck, who still attends many games and he told me, “Both Coach and his team can be proud. They have made progress this year. They won this game, but they have been close a number of times.”
Athletic director Cagney Brigham was excited about the team’s win saying, “It was a really good game. Obviously winning was the best part. The kids were actually thrilled. You could tell coach was really happy, but he was holding it in. I think he knew they were going to win near the end, but he held everything back and just watched the kids celebrate.”
Brigham also noted that he felt the crowd was as big as any this season and thought this made the night even more special for this group of kids.
When all is said and done, one should never forget the perseverance shown by these young men during what to them were very important times. Ruppel said his team was “gritty and really worked hard for 32 minutes.” He has said this many times during his 58 games as the Cosmos’ coach, but thank goodness on this night, the strong dedication to task shown by his youngsters over three seasons showed up in bright lights on the scoreboard.