WARREN - There's a school of thought that says playing larger schools with better teams is a way to build character in high school sports.
The flip side of that thinking is that all the fun is taken out of the equation when those character-building games turn into a bunch of sad faces on bus rides home.
John F. Kennedy Eagles basketball coach Shawn Pompelia is dealing with that dilemma in the early stages of this season. The Eagles are doing everything asked of them by Pompelia, but a demanding schedule has them pondering a 1-3 record.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
John F. Kennedy’s Preston Caparanis (4) gets pinched between Cleveland Central Catholic defenders James Tell, left, and Brandon Peters as he drives to the basket during first-half action.
The latest defeat was to the taller, more-athletic Cleveland Central Catholic Ironmen, who fought off a determined effort to prevail, 63-50, in a North Coast League game Friday at Gillen Gymnasium.
"There's no doubt about it that I struggle with the schedule every year," Pompelia said. "I hate when people say that 'you'll be ready for the D-IV tournament,' because I think you need to learn how to win to be successful. There's a balance there.
"As long as we keep this team going in the right direction and staying positive, I feel toward the end of the season our outcome is going to be a lot better than it is today."
The Eagles (1-3 and 0-1 in the NCL) have played two Division II teams, including the Ironmen. The schedule doesn't get any easier Friday when JFK?plays Division III opponent Villa Angela-St. Joseph. St. Joes, which moved up from Division IV this season, returns players from a team that won a Division IV state title last season and is considered the best team in any division in the Cleveland area this season.
The Ironmen (3-0) resembled a small college team more than a high school team with 6-7 Tervell Beck, 6-9 Montel McRae and 6-5 Antown Lillard in the starting lineup. Despite a noticeable size disadvantage, the Eagles hustled their way into a competitive performance.
The Ironmen won the battle of the boards, but it wasn't total domination (40-27). JFK's Zachery Usher, a 6-7 junior, pulled down nine rebounds.
Pompelia had to be pleased to see his players diving for loose balls and never showing signs of giving up.
"I was happy with most of the performance tonight," Pompelia said. "Here's a team that blew us out in Cleveland last year. The effort is there. We're playing hard. We're a good team. The record doesn't show it, but we're playing (good) people, too.
"We love this group of kids. They're working hard for us. Playing the D-IIs of the world and Villa is going to help us."
The Eagles were matching the Ironmen nearly point for point for most of two quarters. Leading 24-22, Central Catholic then scored the final nine points of the first half to lead 33-22.
The Ironmen weren't able to turn the game into a rout in the second half. The Eagles made just seven field goals in the second half, but they were 14-of-20 at the foul line. JFK trailed 48-33 after the third quarter.
Preston Caparanis led the Eagles in scoring with 13 points, including a 9-of-12 effort at the line. Usher added 12 points.
Ironmen coach Jonathan Harris used 14 players, including nine that scored. Lillard led the way with 18 points and Beck had 10.
"I know it's a cliche, but we have to continue to fight and grind and find ways to turn games like these around," Pompelia said.