Two years ago, the Central Middle School seventh-grade boys basketball team almost lost its second game of the season against Center Grove Central, winning by just three points.
But 34 games, two coaches and one year later, that would be the closest any team has gotten to derailing two years of perfection.
Five players, most of which have been playing together for six years, were major contributors to the Chargers’ 36-game winning streak from seventh to eighth grade. Point guard Reese Harmon, shooting guard Ben Major, small-forward Kyler Boyer and power-forward Jacob Pierce have been playing on the same AAU basketball teams since they were in the second grade. Center Parker Harrison joined with them as a fourth grader. Major credited much of their success to the chemistry they created with one another over the year.
“We were hoping to do well and just ended up going 17-0 (as seventh-graders),” Pierce said. “We came back this year saying, ‘We beat everybody last year. Why not do it this year?’”
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It took a little time for the players who were under coach Gary Shafer as seventh-graders to get used to the different coaching style of eighth-grade coach Michael McBride. Pierce said switching coaches was a culture change for the team because Shafer was much more soft spoken than McBride.
The players said they did not play their best game in the eighth-grade season opener because they were still warming up to the difference in coaching style, but still managed to get the win.
“We were still adjusting to it,” Pierce said. “Eventually, we started to get used to him. He got to know us, and it worked out.”
The Chargers were forced to adjust quickly, having to play their toughest opponent in Center Grove Central just two games later. Center Grove gave the Chargers another tough game, but the Chargers extended their winning streak to 20 games after another three-point victory.
“It goes back to the chemistry, us knowing in that moment what we needed to do,” Major said. “We know each other’s strengths. So when it came to clutch moments, we knew who needed the ball in their hand or who needed to be playing lockdown defense on their best player.”
The Center Grove games might have been the closest for the Chargers, but the most memorable games for these five were the games against their Columbus rivals, Northside. The Chargers capped off their 36-0 record with one final showdown with the Spartans.
Harmon remembered feeling the pressure right before the game, saying he did not want to lose because he wanted to keep the record alive.
Pierce said most of his friends do not usually come out to the other games but remembers most of the city filing in to watch the Chargers square off against their rivals. He describes it as the biggest game of the year not only for the players, but for all of the other students in the school.
The Chargers not only ended their season with bragging rights over Northside, but got a chance to be remembered as the only Central team to go undefeated for two seasons.
“That fourth quarter, walking off the floor, you’re just kind of sitting there the last quarter just basking it in, like we did it,” Pierce said. “When we get to high school, and we’re playing, we can say, ‘Hey, remember in middle school when we went undefeated?’ Just one of those things to talk about.”
Most of the team will be taking their talents to Columbus East to play high school basketball, but one or two players may decide to go to Columbus North. Either way, the players said their bond will not be broken one way or the other.
“We were the first boys basketball team at Central to go 36-0 in two seasons,” Boyer said. “People will usually remember us for awhile.”
This year’s Central eighth-grade roster:
Head coach: Michael McBride
Assistant coach: Alex Cowan
Assistant coach: Nate Rich