OTTAWA/March 11—It didn’t take long for Shaun Kennedy to articulate what makes the basketball team he coaches special.
“The beauty of this team,” Kennedy said after the Sydenham Golden Eagles captured the consolation title at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA championship tournament Wednesday afternoon, “is we lost out in the medal round and they were down, but they were able to bring themselves back up to compete, and value the beauty of being at OFSAA, and make the experience a complete one.”
The Eagles, seeded eighth at the 18-team tournament, had one poor half in the five games they ultimately played here, a half that included one positively dreadful quarter. That meant that, despite scoring 46 points in the second half, they still couldn’t avoid a 72-62 second-round loss to Bishop Macdonell of Guelph, the tournament’s ninth-seeded team.
That defeat relegated Sydenham to the consolation round, where many a towel has been meekly thrown by teams too distraught over winding up there to put in a genuine effort. When the Eagles fell behind 8-2, and later 20-13, in their consolation quarter-final Tuesday night, it appeared that might be the way Sydenham’s wind was blowing, too.
The Eagles came back to win that game, and two more games where they would spot an opponent a significant lead before getting their house in order.
Clearly, for this Sydenham bunch, five of whom were fifth-year seniors playing the final time in their scholastic careers, there remained something to be said for winning their last game, even if it wasn’t going to result in getting a medal.
“They were pretty bummed that they were out of the medal round,” Kennedy said, “and they could have shut down, but they didn’t, and that’s just the way we are. We’re a pretty resilient team.”
For a couple of reasons, Kennedy said it was extremely important for this not to be a so-what kind of exercise. “You work so hard to make this trip and make this journey,” he said. “OFSAA’s a pretty special thing. You have to come through a couple of championships just to get here.”
A thread of history wove through the season. This was Sydenham’s first county championship since 1978; its first OFSAA appearance since 1995. “The boys, every single one of the players (knew about that),” Kennedy said. “They knew how special it is to get here, the history of our school, that this is the first time a team has not only won a game, but we won four games.
“I said to the boys, ‘You know what? Somebody in that gold-medal game tonight is going to be 4-1—and so are we. It’s pretty special.”
The other reason Kennedy believes it was important to win the consolation title is for the impact it will have on the players who will remain with the team next year to have experienced the leadership and character the fifth-year men displayed.
“The importance of what they brought and how they’re role models for the future of our basketball program (can’t be exaggerated). The other players will be thinking about what they can do next year and how they can use this experience and push themselves to work in the off-season (to get back).”
It’s a group of athletes of whom Kennedy obviously is proud, and he says he’s fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with them. He recalled the day three years ago when Brett Walsh, the junior coach at Sydenham, called him and urged him to get back into coaching.
“Brett Walsh sort of orchestrated it,” Kennedy said. “He really did build this team. He’s coached a few of these players close to 200 games, through club or junior basketball. He called me and said we’ve got a bunch of character kids and you’ve got to come back to the senior boys circuit to coach. I loved hearing that.
“It was really neat to come back and be the head coach and have two wonderful assistants.”
Kennedy said Walsh is also responsible for bringing the other assistant into the fold. Justin Wallace was a member of Frontenac’s 2003 OFSAA gold-medal team and he was with the team the following year when it made a run for the AAAA title.
“He brought Justin into this journey to share his experience and help guide us through what it takes to make it to an OFSAA championship,” Kennedy said, “and he really did.
“They deserve a lot of the credit.”
In all, Kennedy said, the tournament was a positive experience.
“We had a hiccup,” he said. “We let a deficit get too big (against Macdonell). We know that. In their hearts, (the players) truly believe that if we’d made it through that, who knows what could have happened, but at the end of the day the consolation final was pretty special.”