The middle school boys’ basketball team at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School is a team without walls.
They don’t have a gym at their school so all winter long they practice outside on an asphalt court. On Sundays they make the trip to the Tisbury School to play on real hardwood floors. They also practice in their driveways and at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, where they play their home games.
But tonight the Charter School team will step inside the walls of the big time as they compete in the championship game of the middle school basketball league against the Edgartown School Eagles. The game takes place today at 5 p.m. at the regional high school gymnasium.
It’s the first time in the team’s 17-year history — the entire existence of the Charter School itself — that they have made it to the finals. In the true spirit of drama, they earned their spot last week with a come-from-behind one-point victory over defending champs Oak Bluffs, switching up their regular-season defense from zone to man-to-man to thwart the Blazers offense. They had never defeated Oak Bluffs in any game, let alone one with such historical significance.
“We didn’t [beat Oak Bluffs] in the regular season, but everything fell into place,” Charter School athletic director and team co-coach Timothy Penicaud said on Monday.
This has been the case all season, as the slow-growing basketball program at the school has found secure footing in an extraordinarily competitive setting. Middle school basketball on the Island is a throwback to the days before the high school was regionalized, when town-versus-town rivalries were more common and competition was fierce.
“Each year this team has really improved,” said Mr. Penicaud, who came on board in 2001 and currently co-coaches with Asil Cash. “There’s a culture that I think is being formed at the school each year with eighth grade captains . . . passing down the legacy to want to be involved and to be a leader.”
“It’s really fun because it’s such a small team. It’s a Hoosiers-like team,” he said, referencing the 1986 movie starring Gene Hackman.
There are nine players on the school’s varsity team, which is captained by eighth graders Jared Rivard and Avery Minor and seventh grader Ricardo Andrade.
“They really motivate the other kids in a way the adults really can’t,“ Mr. Penicaud said of the captains. The team itself is a young one, he said, with its mix of seventh and eighth graders. August Engler, Miles Jordi, Ethan Hall, Aidan Aliberti, Charlie Whalen and Skylar Cameron round out the squad.
“We’re always used to playing bigger and older kids,” Mr. Penicaud said. “It takes everybody on our team to be working together and coming to that team cohesion to be able to compete...To make it to the championship this year, to be really gelling well together, it’s really exciting.”
The Charter School saved its man-to-man defense for the playoffs, and hopes it will serve them well against Edgartown, which relies on strong passing and jump shooting to shut down zone defenses.
“Obviously anybody could win in this championship game, which is what makes it exciting, but we’re hoping that our strategy going into it . . . will be a winning strategy,” Mr. Penicaud said.
The boys’ middle school basketball finals will be held at 5 p.m. today, Feb. 12, in the regional high school gymnasium. The girls’ finals begin at 3:30 p.m.