Culver School’s 7th and 8th grade girls’ basketball teams enjoyed success both on and off the court in the just-completed fall season.
The 7th graders, coached by special education teacher John Petitt, made it to the finals of the Niles Township Athletic Conference’s end-of-season tournament in late December, ultimately finishing second. The 8th graders, coached by EL teacher Mary Ellen Mueller, got to their tournament semifinals, and finished third.
Culver competes in a number of sports in the conference. Comprised of all the Niles Township districts that send students on to Niles North or Niles West, the conference is also known as the “Little Nine.”
Both coaches are veterans of their sport—Mueller has coached since 2005, Petitt even longer, now in his 29th year of coaching 7th grade boys after finishing 25 years with the girls. They both speak highly of their teams.
“I love this group,” Mueller said of the 8th graders. “They worked hard, had a great attitude, and they all got along so well. They supported each other all the time. I called them ‘my champions in heart.’ They were fighters.”
“This was an incredible group of girls, top three among all the years I’ve coached,” Petitt said of the 7th graders. “They’re polite, hardworking and tenacious—a dream kind of kids you want to coach.”
Besides exercise, the players benefit in ways that carry beyond the court, the coaches say. Culver Assistant Principal Oscar Suarez agrees. “Students are able to engage in being part of a team, learn about teamwork and sportsmanship, what it means to help out a friend,” Suarez said. “They learn lessons applicable to everyday life.”
Mueller noted, “The players feel part of the school spirit. They enjoy friendships and lots of laughter, and learn to manage their time. That helps them because many of them do other activities such as music or religious education.” Petitt added, “Sports can teach kids life skills—being tenacious, not dwelling on mistakes.”
Players’ families also get involved and take pride in their daughters’ efforts. “The families are incredibly supportive,” Petitt said. “The majority came to the majority of the games. They’re a great support system for the girls and for me.” Mueller added, “Many parents came to games home and away. They have a lot of school spirit.”
Suarez said Culver is working with the Niles Park District to create opportunities for younger students to play the game as well. In February, boys’ and girls’ 4th grade teams will compete in park district leagues. If it goes well, Suarez said, 5th grade teams could be added in the future.
“One hundred percent, it’s the right thing to do,” Petitt said of the move to competition in earlier grades. Mueller agrees. “The earlier the kids start playing, the more experience they have being on the court. They can develop court sense and basketball know-how. They will get accustomed to playing together, and learn the language of basketball.”