The following is the second in a series of blog posts about English High’s basketball team and the school’s efforts to hold their athletes to higher academic standards. The posts are a follow up to the Boston Globe Magazine story I wrote about the school increasing its eligibility threshold for athletes to a district-high 2.5 GPA.
By Justin A. Rice
JAMAICA PLAIN — As English High took the floor for its first City League game of the season against Brighton High on Tuesday night, Jacko Tate sat in the first row of the bleachers with a while Red Sox hat on and a Hollister hoody that covered another powder blue hoody.
“Yo Jacko why aren’t you playing?” someone yelled from a few rows up.
“I have a 2.4,” the senior replied sheepishly before an assistant coach put an arm around his shoulder and whispered a few words of encouragement.
“Most likely, second term I will be playing,” the 17-year-old Dorchester resident reassures the coach.
A 2.4 GPA would be good enough to play for any other basketball team in Boston Public Schools, where all but a few schools require athletes to have a 1.67 to play. As part of a broader plan to create a culture of achievement in the school, English High increased its standards to a 2.0 two years ago, a 2.2 last year and a 2.5 this year. Tate has not been eligible to play basketball since his freshman year when the school still used the 1.67 threshold.
“That’s when I was a child basically, that’s when I was little,” Tate told me just before the game starts when I asked if he made the 2.0 requirement as a sophomore. “When I came in as a freshman I had a 4.0. But when I became a sophomore I started hanging around the wrong people, which brought my grades down, so I didn’t get the GPA requirements. So I didn’t play.
“It’s all about a challenge so I’d rather face a challenge than run away from a challenge. That’s one of the things coach [Barry Robinson] told me to do: ‘Always face a challenge instead of running away from a challenge.’ The GPA requirement is tough but it’s really what you make it. If you want to make it hard on yourself don’t come to school, don’t’ do your work but in order to get it you have to come do your work, pay attention in class, stay out of trouble. … If it wasn’t for basketball I honestly don’t think I would be coming to school.”
Tate is English’s biggest cheerleader as English battles Brighton, a team that beat the Blue & Blue by 46 points in their first meeting last year. Brighton—who has five players over 6-feet-2-inches compared to an English squad that is basically all 6-feet and under—lost to eventual state champion New Mission in the Division 2 North title game last year.
English is not only trying to avenge last year’s loss but they also felt disrespected by the fact that Brighton didn’t scout English’s season opening victory against a team from Australia last Friday.
Brighton’s respect was won after they struggled to move the ball up the court against English’s press and, after a furious pace, went into the locker room tied 37 with English at halftime.
“It’s going to come down to who wants this game,” Robinson, or Coach Rob, told his team at halftime. “You already got their respect. Respect is off the table right now, you already got their respect. They know you ain’t going away and you came to play. It’s going to come down to what you got.”
After Brighton takes a 42-39 lead early in the second half, Tate started the crowd in a “Let’s go English” chant as he stomps his feat on the bleachers.
“Yo can we get a ‘D-fense’ chant?” he shouts when Brighton scores again.
Just then English senior co-captain Tyrone Williams grabbed a tough rebound in the paint and puts it back for two to trail 44-42 with 5:57 seconds left in the quarter. On the other end of the court Williams draws a charge and the crowd goes crazy.
English’s press forced a Brighton turnover that results in a 3-pointer from freshman point guard Stanley Davis to give English its third and final lead of the game, 45-44. The Bengals rip off a 6-0 run to take a 55-53 lead after three quarters.
Brighton opened the fourth quarter in a 3-2 defensive zone that befuddled English. English didn’t score a basket for the first three minutes of the quarter. When English finally scored they were trailing 63-55 with 4:56 left in the game.
With 4:48 remaining, Davis failed to convert the free throw on a potential 3-point-play that would’ve put English down five. Starting with Dwayne Harper’s free throws with 4:19 left, Brighton closed out the game with a 14-3 run to collect the 77-60 victory.
Afterwards, Brighton coach, Hugh Coleman, admitted that his team might’ve taken English for granted.
“In the history of English, they played hard and they are well coached and they are smart,” Coleman said. “Our guys, a little nervous, playing with not good basketball IQ and that’s the reason why we were a little rusty. … In some ways they might’ve underestimated English just a little bit because that’s just how kids get. We come off a great season but it’s a whole different team. These guys don’t realize from year to year you can’t live off the past.”
In English’s locker room after the game, Coach Rob told his team to look at the game as a learning process.
“Do not look at this game as a failure,” he said. “It just means you are like the little red engine that could. That means you are just going to have to climb that hill a little harder. We’re one down in our conference, okay, and you better hope somebody is going to knock them off but we are going to have to knock them off if you want to make some of these goals [that we set].”
Brighton was led by Nick Simpson (18 points) and Harper (17 points) while senior co-captain Wiley Shipman led English with 12 points. Shipman sat out the first game of the season due to having too many unexcused absences in class.
“Nothing really beat us out there we just got to get past that 2-3 zone that’s it … that wasn’t really a 15 point game, that was a two, three possession game, it’s just we got a little lazy.” said Shipman, who has a 2.9 GPA. “It felt good that I could contribute to my team. The fans and my teammates, everyone was just happy to see me on the floor. I just wanted to do my job and be a leader and the scorer that I am.
“I had some positives but I had a lot of negatives. I just have to flush the mistakes and get back in the gym tomorrow. We brought it to them we just wanted to get the respect part out of there and I know they felt our presence.”