The John A. Coleman Catholic boys’ varsity basketball team is undermanned, outgunned and thus far winless. But coach John Funk said Statesmen team spirit remains high.
“Even though we’re 0-3, the morale is strong,” Funk said in an interview earlier this month. “They think they’re 3-0, but the morale is strong.”
The team has sustained blowout losses Webutuck and Millbrook, but the Statesmen played their best game of the season in a 55-44 road loss to Pine Plains on Friday, Dec. 9. The game featured more than 10 lead changes before the Bombers streaked through the fourth quarter to pick up the win. Jared Milano drilled five 3-pointers on his way to a 17-point performance for Coleman, but it wasn’t enough.
Coleman basketball is in something of a fallow period, one Funk said he believes it will eventually emerge from. After years of unparalleled success, the girls’ varsity team was unable to field a team this season due to low participation. The boys’ varsity side has just seven players.
“My biggest thing is numbers,” said Funk. “I have seven kids on the varsity, two are sophomores. One is a Chinese foreign exchange student who was in the school last year and just became eligible this year because he had to sit a year. And he’s going back to China for two weeks.”
Funk added that he’s not yet at the point where he’s tempted to bring kids up to varsity from JV.
“The JV [team] has nine [players],” he said. “But it seems like there’s always someone sick on the JV, so I’m not going to deplete them.”
A scheduling snafu pushed the team’s game against Onteora from Tuesday, Dec. 20 to Thursday, Dec. 22, by which time the Statesmen’s bench will be exactly one player. Still, Funk said he liked his chances against Onteora and believed Coleman could pick up its first win of the season.
“Just because of how we’ve matched up and so forth, I think it’s possible,” he said. “Now watch us get blown out by 50. I’ve had teams that have been very much the underdog come out with a win, and I’ve also been the team that is supposed to win and ended up with a loss.”
Two days later the Statesmen didn’t get blown out by 50, but they did by half as much, playing generous host in a 67-42 defeat that hinged on poor results in the first and third quarters, during which they were outscored by a combined 46-19.
Miles Eberhard led all scorers with 26 points for Onteora, with Noah Kight tossing in 16. Tiernan Corbett led Coleman with 18 points in the see-saw affair.
Ebbs and flows in participation and talent are part of all high school sports, but in a private Catholic school like Coleman it can sometimes be felt more deeply.
“It’s just strictly the numbers in school population,” Funk said. “I think we have 145 kids [in the school], and out of that sixty-something are boys. The choices aren’t there. The talent isn’t there. Financially, I think times are a bit lean, and I know that cuts back on enrollment. And when enrollment is low, I’ve got less choices. My starting point guard is a 10th grader who sat the bench — not all the time — on the JV team. I’ve got what I got. No transfers of any kind that came in, and they would need to be freshmen anyway to be immediately eligible. I typically open the gym for open gym basketball about 100 times out of season; this was the first time I opened it about 30 times just because kids weren’t showing up.”
While the school offers multiple sports options during the fall and spring seasons, basketball is the only game in town at Coleman during the winter. But the trend for focused year-round participation for student-athletes is also taking a toll.
“The seven kids I have, there could have been two more but they are playing travel soccer instead,” Funk said. “Somebody gets into the kids’ heads, and I am not saying Coleman coaches, but travel coaches say, ‘You’ve got a good shot at [NCAA] D-II or D-I,’ and that’s all you’ve got to say to a kid. And then they go specialize.”
The Statesmen’s early struggles may not have done much for them in the standings, but it does appear to be giving them more opportunities for games than they had before the season started.
“From February of this past season right up until October when I came to the conclusion it’s not happening right now I was having trouble getting non-league games,” Funk said. “And then people have seen we’re 0-3 and I’ve only got seven kids on the team, only one of which returned as a starter from last year, now they’re calling for games to fill the schedule. But I’m used to that. I’ve been coaching awhile and I’ve seen that happen.”
The Statesmen are a Class C team by virtue of their student population, which means when they’ve for the numbers they can compete more than they are now. And Funk believes that could happen as soon as next season.
“With what’s on varsity I’ve got four out of five starters coming back,” he said. “Or rather three out of five depending upon who we’re playing because one kid plays a stronger zone and another plays better man-to-man. But I think we’ll be solvent again. It just has to take hold, that’s all.”
The Statesmen, now 0-4, are off until the first Friday in January when they travel to Rhinebeck. They’re back in action in their home gym on Tuesday, Jan. 10 with a shot at redemption against Pine Plains.