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Community missing out on hoopsters

A guest column by Joe St. Henry

January 12, 2011 - They say the worth of a coach is judged not by what he or she does when a team is winning, but by what they do when they are taking in on the chin.

Who knows what was going through the minds of Lake Orion's varsity boys basketball coach Mike Shafkalis and his assistants as the Dragons ran directly into a hornet nest last Friday, falling behind the Avondale Yellow Jackets by 21 points after one quarter.

Avondale seemingly pulled down every rebound, made every steal and hit every long-range shot it took during the first eight minutes of the game. The rout was on.

Shafkalis may have been frustrated, but he sure did not show it. Rather than raise a white flag, the coaches made key adjustments and, more importantly, refocused the team and implored them to continue fighting. They challenged them to not give up 100 points.

In true Lake Orion fashion, the kids stepped up their intensity, played tough defense, scrapped for the ball and started hitting their own shots. LO outscored Avondale in the remaining three quarters - drawing to within four points with 2 minutes left.

The momentum decidedly turned in the fourth quarter. As Lake Orion cut into the lead, everyone in the building could see and feel the players' confidence building. Smiles and shouts of encouragement returned to the huddle.

Alas, the Yellow Jackets' best player took over and sealed the game with clutch shots and free throws to end the contest.

Despite the final outcome, nobody could deny the young Dragons put up a heck of a fight. Rather than roll over after a bad start, the team regained its composure and pushed Avondale to the end.

While they ultimately lost, the Dragons took a step forward that night. The team showed grit and promise. It was gelling before our eyes. I guess you had to be there to truly experience the moment - and realize this group is becoming a team.

It's just too bad relatively few people could see it happening, for the stands were only a quarter full.

Who knows what may have transpired this winter night if the stands would have packed. When the game got tight, a loud and rocking field house may have just been what was needed to intimidate the opponent and literally will Lake Orion to a comeback victory. As any athlete young or old knows - a team can truly feed off the crowd's emotion.

Back in the day, Lake Orion was quite a basketball school. In the early 1980s, the Dragons fielded some of the best boys and girls teams in the county. The old field house was filled to almost capacity on Friday nights. For the biggest contests, including those against Clarkston and state playoff games, there was standing room only. The old gym literally shook from the rafters to the floor. Cold winter nights were filled with basketball fever.

Those teams may have been special, but today's Dragon basketball players compete just as hard and the coaches seize virtually every opportunity to teach. For gosh sakes, on Friday they called a timeout with seven seconds left and the outcome clearly decided to draw up a final play. When the buzzer finally sounded, it was hard not to crack a smile.

This turned out to be a competitive game. Who would have thought that was possible after the first quarter? I guess our coaches and, evidently, the players did. The small home crowd eventually joined them.

This team deserves more from us. If we can pack the football stands on cold, rainy November evenings, then we can surely fill today's field house with even more students and basketball fans from our community.

Who knows, as this team finds itself this winter, maybe this sports-crazed community can truly provide a home court advantage, just like Lake Orion enjoyed this past fall?

In fact, local high school basketball pundits think the Dragons may pull a few surprises as the season progresses.

Let's start March Madness a little early around here, beginning this Friday, by joining the team on the road against neighbor Rochester Adams, or on January 18 at home against Ferndale.

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