WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange’s in-house basketball season is coming to a close on March 22 with “Championship Sunday,” which is taking place in the West Orange High School Tarnoff Gym. There are four game scheduled plus the finals of the “Hot Shot tournament.”
The day will kick off at noon with the Middle School Girls’ Final of Liberty vs. Sparks, followed by the Elementary Girls’ Final between the undefeated Mt. Pleasant Lady Lions and the 5-2 Pleasantdale Lady Panthers at 1:30 p.m.
The Hot Shot Tournament will take place at 3 p.m. Prior to this event, each elementary school held a local competition to crown a school champion. The 14 school champions (seven boys/seven girls) will compete to crown a Boys’ Town Champion and a Girls’ Town Champion of the Hot Shot Tournament.
Next up will be the Elementary Boys’ Championship between the undefeated Pleasantdale Panthers and the 7-1 Cobras at 3:30 pm. To close out the day and season, the Middle School Boys’ Championship between the 11-0 Suns and the 10-3 Celtics will take place at 5:00 p.m.
According to a joint flyer from The West Orange Recreation Department and Mountain Top League the public is invited to “come witness one of the most exciting days in West Orange--Championship Sunday is the culmination of a four-month stretch of practices, hard work, games, and playoffs.
“March Madness will be alive and well in West Orange this weekend,” according to the West Orange Recreation Department and Mountain Top League.
Elementary School League
The Elementary School Basketball League, with separate girls’ and boys’ leagues, is co-sponsored by the West Orange Recreation Department and the Mountain Top League. The League has been in existence since 2008 and is open to residents in fourth and fifth grade. Games are played on Sundays, beginning in January at the WOHS Tarnoff Gym.
Middle School League
The Middle School Division, with boys’ and a girls’ leagues, is sponsored by the Mountain Top League and the West Orange Recreation Department. The league is open to residents in grades six through eight. Teams are randomly created via a coach’s draft. The teams play their games on various weekday evenings at various gyms within the township.
Hot Shot Tournament
The Hot Shot Tournament, sponsored by the West Orange Recreation Department, is in its second decade of existence. Each elementary school holds their local competition in December and January. In the Hot Shot, participants receive points based upon where on the court they make their shots from. Each contestant has 60 seconds to score as many points as possible.
All school champions are then brought together to compete for the Town Championship. Each school champion receives a School Champion t-shirt to wear when competing at the finals.
The 2015 Elementary School Champions competing on Sunday are:
- Gregory: Evan Reynolds and Kennedy Morgan
- Hazel: Santiago Orrico and Christie Mescharles
- Mt. Pleasant: Kiley Capstraw and Nick Foglia
- Pleasantdale: Kyle Schiner and Cameron Daniels
- Redwood: Ari Rosu and Olivia Telemaque
- St. Cloud: Jackson Ward and Kassidy Scott
- Washington: Tyree Ware and Amari Quevedo
Elementary School Girls’ Basketball: Lady Lions vs. Lady Panthers
Mount Pleasant Lady Lions
Mt. Pleasant Elementary School’s undefeated Lady Lions are going for their second championship this Sunday, and for the second time, they are playing the 5-2 Lady Panthers in the finals. According to Lions Coach Chelsea Capstraw, the team, comprising all fifth graders and one fourth grader, was mostly green last year.
“When the girls started playing, they really had no idea about the game and began by learning the basics,” said Capstraw, whose assistant coaches are Will Wilkes and Gary Walters.
“They have really blossomed into great players who have found a real love for the game,” she said. “They have turned into a wonderful group of ladies who have come together, really grasped the concepts and have determination through roof. They show up every day to get better and it is a great experience for me as a coach.”
Capstraw said that basketball is more than just a game to the Lions, it has taught them a lot—much of which has been blended into their daily lives.
“This team is truly the epitome of what it means to represent a team,” said Capstraw. “It has been great to see how much they have progressed and how much they understand. They show great sportsmanship. In addition, the sport has really empowered them, not only on the floor, but in the classroom—they are taking what they are learning on the floor back to the classroom where they are doing well in school and other activities including orchestra—some have even made regional orchestra. Not only is basketball helping them to build confidence, it is teaching them about leadership, and most importantly—they are having fun.”
“We are really looking forward to being back in championship this year,” said Capstraw. “We won the championship last year against the Lady Panthers, and we have the majority of the same players on the team this year.”
She added, “It is so nice to see these girls representing on Championship Sunday. It will be a terrific game.”
Pleasantdale Lady Panthers
The Lady Panthers are coached by Gene Galantini, who is also a Mountain Top League Basketball Trustee.
“Our team has come a long a way,” said Galantini. “We started the season with some girls who had never played the game before, went on the win the semi –finals, 30-26, and are now in the championship round.”
“The girls play great as a team and are always excited to play together and have fun,” he added.
“We are excited to go into the finals and to try to take down the undefeated Lady Lions,” added Galantini.
Elementary School Boys’ Basketball: Cobras vs. Panthers
Joe Rozehzadeh, of West Orange, whose two sons that attend JEC in Elizabeth are on the team, coaches the 7-1 Cobras. The Cobras are made up of a pretty even number of fourth and fifth graders from Jewish schools: JEC in Elizabeth and Kusher Academy in Livingston.
The team, which lost to the Panthers last year, is hoping for a win.
“The Panthers were our only loss last year—this should be a good game,” said Rozehzadeh.
“As a team, we not only work hard on things like rebounding, but I am teaching them sportsmanship,” said Rozehzadeh, who has been coaching for three years.
“They know that being nice and thanking the refs and other teams is even more important than winning,” he said.
The Cobras’ sportsmanship is also followed in-house.
“When the team is up, I try to let all the players play and score, said Rozehzadeh.
He added, “All Cobras have scored at least one time. I think this is really important as it builds confidence. In the semi-final game, one of our smallest kids scored and it was great to see.”
“I am really proud of these players because they have shown me strong ethics, which is very important to me,” said Rozehzadeh, who said he has also liked seeing his sons grow as players throughout the season.
The Panthers are coached by Curt Schiner.
Last year, the Panthers played the Cobras and won. The teams were in different divisions of the elementary league because there were many teams, and each team was required to play one team outside their division. They also beat them this year during the season.
‘The game was surprisingly hard,” said Panthers point guard Elliot Cadeau. “They had a few great players. We won through sharing the ball and finishing at the basket. It helps that we were in the Final Four last year as we are not as nervous this year. And mentally, we are just tougher.”
“The team we are playing is very good and Sunday's game will be a great challenge for our team,” said Schiner.” I look forward to a very exciting game.”
The undefeated Panthers were not always the team they are today.
“The boys have improved 100 percent since our first practice in December,” said Schiner. “They have played hard. They play smart. And most importantly they play together as a team and as one.”
“Great practices and hard work from the boys paid off and they won every game in the regular season,” said Michelle Cadeau, whose son is on the team. “The parents are proud of the boys and are very happy with this season.”
“Coach Curt has been a great leader and a positive impact on our boys,” said Melissa Haber, whose son is on the team. “Our boys take great direction from their coach and as a result they are a strong and unified team. We are so proud of them.”
“The Panthers said that they were excited about the possibility of being in the Final Four—but knew that anything could happen,” added Cadeau. “They are now beyond thrilled to have actually made it into the Championship and cannot wait to play the Cobras.”
Elementary Boys’ Basketball: Suns vs. Celtics
Nayan Lassiter is the coach of the 11-0 Suns. The middle school team is a blend boys from Liberty, Roosevelt and Edison.
“We are a balanced team, which is how we got to be 11-0,” said Lassiter. “The team spreads the ball around really well.”
The Suns beat the Heat during the season in a close game.
“We differ from the Heat in the way we play,” said Lassiter. “They have two brothers who are great players and score most of the team’s points, while all of our players score.”
“I saw the Heat come back against the Nets, where the Heat was down by 10, with two minutes to go, and the brothers tied the game with a minute left, and then won,” said Lassiter.
Lassister said that while the Suns beat the Heat during the season, once a team is in the playoffs, “anything goes—you can’t take anything for granted.”
The Suns play close games and are not a “blowout” team.
“We need to play our game and try not to turn the ball over,” said Lassister. “It should be interesting.”
Lassiter said he thinks of his team like the undefeated Kentucky college team. He said there are people who want to see them defeated.
“I notice people in the stands seeming happy when we miss, like they want to knock us off our record,” said Lassiter. “If we win the championship, we will be 12-0 and that is quite an accomplishment.”
Lassiter said he played a lot of football as a youth and was a little nervous to coach basketball, which he also played as a kid. He saw that his son preferred basketball and decided to become a coach.
“These eighth graders are really good, so it was intimidating at first,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I could teach them, but we worked on motivation, fundamentals and discipline this year. They also learned not to think as individuals, but like a team.”
Editors Note: Lassiter recently wrote a Facebook post about being a coach, which has been reprinted as a Guest Column in today’s issue of TAP into West Orange.
Coach Bill Beck’s dedication to his middle school boys basketball team, the Celtics, knows no bounds—although he had to miss his team’s Wednesday semifinal game because he was on a business trip in Switzerland, he stayed up well past 2:00 am., his time, for game updates and to be interviewed by TAP into West Orange. In fact, TAP found out about the Celtic’s win over the Hornets, 38-35, from Beck immediately after the game ended.
“From what I hear, the game against the Hornets seems to be a slow-paced game,” said Beck after receiving an update from the game via text. “We played them before and won last time.”
“The semifinal game is the only game I have missed and I am looking forward to the Celtics being in the finals,” said Beck, prior to learning of their win.
Beck has been coaching for two years. He began doing so when his older son, now 17, was on his team. His son is now a student coach for the Celtics. His younger son goes to Liberty.
He said that his team of boys in sixth to eighth grade started off slow, but that they are now 9-3.
“Our biggest strength is team defense,” he said. “We have held our opponents to some of the lowest scores up to now.”
“Our other strengths are speed and 3-point shooting,” he added.
Beck is currently coaching a few players from last year, but the majority of his players have not played together before.
“As a coach, you get your child on your team and draft for the rest,” he said. “We are fortunate to have drafted two players from last year.”
Winning is not the team’s only objective—they have to get good grades too.
“One of the main things we emphasize this year is the kids’ grades in school,” said Beck. “The parents will let me know if a player received a bad grade and we are in agreement that a player cannot practice or play in a game until a grade is pulled up. We let the players know that school comes first.”
The Celtics are learning about sportsmanship too.
“Basketball also teaches sportsmanship,” said Beck. “The team has a really good warm dynamic. Most of the kids start the season not knowing one another, but by the end, they are mostly pretty good friends. As a coach, it is great to see them grow as teammates.”
Beck likes working with his son as an assistant coach and coaching his other son.
“My older son helps me coach and serves as a mentor to the players,” said Beck. “This gives the players someone near their age to talk to, relate to and learn from and it gives my son leadership skills—in fact, he is coaching the team in my absence while I am in Switzerland and is supplying me with regular game updates via text. I am also getting updates from my wife and the other assistant coaches.”
Coaching helps Beck stay close with his sons.
“As a coach of my son’s team, I get to spend time with both boys, and get to know some of my younger son’s friends,” said Beck. “I enjoy seeing them interact and bond and it is a great opportunity for me to teach the players about a game I was fond of as a kid. And, as anyone with boys knows –it is hard to get them to talk. Basketball lets me pull more out of them.”
Beck is not only proud of his sons and his team—he is proud of the league.
“I think that MTL should be given a lot of credit for this great league,” said Beck. “They are all volunteers and it is hard for the trustees—between the weather, parents and trying to keep everything fair—it is hard enough to get 16 coaches for the league.”
Middle School Girls Teams: Liberty vs. Sparks
The two girls’ middle school teams are made up of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Their trip to the finals is different than the paths taken by the elementary school teams. Prior to being divided into teams, the girls attended clinics, worked on drills and shooting, and had scrimmages.
After a few weeks, they began having Tuesday practices and Thursday games. They were then split up into balanced teams for the last three weeks.
The Sparks are coached by Chauncey Riley and Donovan Alleyne-El coaches Liberty. The two teams will play one another in the finals on Sunday.