A late three-point basket in overtime allowed Culver School’s 7th-grade boys to win this winter’s “Little Nine” basketball tournament.
Culver beat the team from Old Orchard Junior High School 55-52 on March 9, in the week before schools throughout the state were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “It turns out we were very lucky to get the games in before school ended,” said Coach John Petitt.
The championship game was a back-and-forth affair against an opponent Petitt praised as “a big, physical and mature team. At least two were over six-feet tall.” Culver had a lead in the third quarter, but Old Orchard tied it up in the fourth. “The boys were temporarily deflated when we went into overtime, and Old Orchard scored first,” Petitt said. “I called a time out just to keep them focused, and told them just to focus on little basic things.”
Petitt said his team managed to stay in the game by hitting free throws, helped by the opposition’s foul trouble. One of Culver’s starting guards went down with an injury during the overtime, but his substitute came through. “The sub hit a three to take the lead with 12 seconds left. We were able to keep them from scoring again, and won,” Petitt said. “It was my kids’ day.” The player’s injury was not serious, Petitt added.
Culver competes in a number of sports in the Little Nine conference, comprised of all the Niles Township districts that send students on to Niles North or Niles West high schools. Petitt, a special education and resource teacher, has coached both boys’ and girls’ basketball at Culver for more than two decades. His 7th-grade girls won second place in their tournament earlier this school year.
The coach had high praise for this year’s team. “They were incredibly resilient, all season really, but especially in that last game,” Petitt said. “They had so much maturity and ability to focus.”
Petitt is scheduled to retire at the end of the current school year. He derives great satisfaction from working in athletics. “Coaching is a vehicle for kids to learn about themselves, become resilient, learn to leave their mistakes quickly in the rearview mirror,” he said. “These are lifelong memories for them.”
He believes his players benefit from athletics. “To play a team sport like basketball, a good percentage is mental, it’s habit, it’s hard work. It’s much better than going home to play video games,” he said. “Not all the players on the team get to play as much, but they all work hard, practice, and feel part of the team.”