By Laney Smith
On February 22, 2019, the final buzzer of the season sounded in Jefferson High School. The scoreboard read 66-52. The sea of black and blue in the stands roared and rushed the court. The Jefferson boys basketball team had made history in their home gym.
Coach Sean Breeze took the boys varsity basketball head coaching position this year at Jefferson after coaching for 14 years at three other school districts. Although there were a few early bumps in the road, he says he noticed something special about the young men at the very beginning of the season. To kick off the year, they blew through Herculaneum, Crystal City, Kingston, Valley Park, and several other teams with ease. Then, they lost a tough game against St. Vincent, and realized they had some work to do before facing bigger teams at the Grandview Christmas Tournament. After falling to St. Pius in the championship game by five points, the Jays took second place. This didn’t sit well with them, so they started to work even harder. They went on to win 11 of their next 13 games, one of the two losses was by one point to St. Pius. Motivation to play the Lancers in the post-season was at an all-time high at that point.
The Jays played Woodland High School in the first round of districts, blowing through them 78-36. Three days later, they defeated Scott City in the semi-finals, making their record 18-8. The Bluejays would finally get another chance at the St. Pius Lancers, this time with a home court advantage.
“Our gym is probably the loudest of any that we play in, and I think our boys really feed off of that energy during games,” said Breeze. He was not wrong. The night of the championship game, the student section was buzzing. Kids from all activities, cliques, and ages came together to witness an experience that will go down in history at Jefferson High School. There was not a soul sitting down the entire game. The noise, cheers, and camaraderie were at an all time high. Jon Weik can attest to this. “Our mentality was to stick to the game plan and let the energy from the crowd keep us playing hard,” said Weik.
Along with all of the support from the fans and community, the team dynamic, and relationships within the players, was also a huge factor in the opportunity to play in a championship game. “The team dynamic was really amazing and progressively got better throughout the season,” said Breeze. “You have to have that cohesiveness in order to be successful.” The bonds that the boys formed this season will not only be remembered on the basketball court, but will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
According to Easton Null, the coaching was one of the most important factors. “Everyone just really respected Coach Breeze from the very beginning, and that made us want to give it our all at practice,” said Null. Enough said.
In his original article about the game, Ameritime Sports’ Todd Gurnow said it best: “There was an atmosphere about the place. Deep down…those that had followed the Jefferson varsity boys basketball team all season could sense it. Nobody dared to say it, just in case a jinx could be invoked, but as spectators were settled in their seats that Friday night, most were there to see one thing…history.”
With the noise of the crowd rumbling the floor, a coach that has earned the respect of every one of his players, and a team that worked together no matter the circumstance, the Jefferson boys basketball team was ready to play.
After a back and forth first quarter, both teams were tied 11-11. That was the closest the score got the rest of the game. The Lancers would go on to trail for the next three quarters. The score stood 23-19 at halftime, and then 23-19 at the end of the third. It was a relatively low scoring game, but one wouldn’t have thought that looking into the gym. People were still standing shoulder to shoulder on all four sides of the court. The boys had all of the momentum they needed at this point. They were rolling, and there was nothing the Lancers could do to stop them. Approximately eight minutes later, the scoreboard reading 66-52, Null dribbled out the clock one last time on their home court. History was made, just as we had all expected.
The celebration vibrated the walls of our little community. The news spread in mere seconds after the last buzzer. Parents, grandparents, students, alumni, staff members, and everyone else in the crowd cheered and embraced each other, as pride and humility radiated from the boys on the floor. For a split second, everyone came together as one like we never have before, and it was quite the sight to see. It’s a feeling that words couldn’t begin to do justice.
It was incredibly extraordinary for one person in particular, Jake Brooks. Brooks was a first year coach, and led the junior varsity team, known to most as “The Showtime Lakers”, to a legendary 19-1 season. “Going into the year, there are a lot of things that are new,” he said. “New coaches, new system and new players for myself. You never really know what to expect, and what could happen. The goal is always to win a district championship, but doing it in the first year is something special.”
Coach Breeze also had something to say about the experience of moving to a new district and establishing a presence very early on. “Every season is unique, but this was a very exciting season, and doing it all for Jefferson for the first time made it very memorable. Not just for the team, but for the school and the community as a whole.”
Looking back, the boys basketball team has evolved more than any other sports team at Jefferson. In 2015-16, their record was 8-17. The next year they were 10-15. Then they were 17-8 and conference champions. Then, finally, in 2018-19, they were 19-9 and district champions.
Seniors Easton Null, Daniel McWhorter, Jacob Bridges, Cole Holdinghausen, Collin Gosnell, and Erik Eisenbeis left some pretty big shoes to fill. They set the standard, and the underclassmen coming up have very high expectations. “I want to lead the freshmen and sophomores coming up and help the team get back to the level we were when we won districts,” said Colby Ott. “The expectation for next season is very high; the seniors set the bar where it needs to be.”
Now that history has been made, the graduating seniors must hand over the ropes. Though it is tough, they have nothing but best wishes, support, and advice for the younger boys. “I would say that the most important advice I could give would be to just embrace the role you play, whatever that may be,” McWhorter advised. “Whether you’re on the bench or in the game, stay focused and support your teammates. It’ll take you a long way.