Chuck Kemper had two reasons to beam with pride.

Chuck Kemper had two reasons to beam with pride.

Proudly wearing a purple golf shirt, Kemper cheered loudly as the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team defeated Toledo Whitmer 45-40 on March 24 to win the Division I state championship, the program's first.

Not only was Kemper the principal at Central from 2003-07, but he coached Tigers coach Jerry Francis from 1982-85 at Wehrle.

"Jerry's like a son to me. You sit back and watch the great things he's done in his life; really, it's an amazing thing," Kemper said. "When he played for Wehrle, his work ethic was unbelievable. He worked as hard or harder than anyone I've ever coached, then when he went to Ohio State, you wondered if he had the ability to play there.

"He ended up being a four-year starter (from 1985-89) then his first coaching job was as my (junior varsity) coach at Wehrle. I watched him start and I knew he had a bright future in coaching."

Francis, in his second season with the Tigers, might not have been as certain of what his team was capable of accomplishing. He started two seniors, guards Caris LeVert and Chad Nelson, as well as junior forward Taco Charlton and sophomore guards Jae'Sean Tate and Connor Kern. But Central started the season 14-0 and was ranked as high as fourth in the state, then earned its first league championship since 2004 and its first district title since 2002 before earning its first state tournament berth.

Central defeated Fairfield 60-45 in a state semifinal March 23.

LeVert, who has signed to play at Ohio University, scored 20 points in the final and Tate added 10.

The Tigers finished 26-2.

"It hasn't even sunk in, but it's just a great feeling," LeVert said. "To win the last game of the season at state is a great feeling."

The Tigers' win gave the Pickerington Local School District its first team state championship since Central, then known as Pickerington High School, won the Division I girls basketball title in 1999.

Francis jokingly said "a mean old man" - meaning himself - was the driving force that motivated his players.

"I love them all the time, but I stay on them all the time," Francis said. "We don't rest on our laurels. We want to lay down the foundation of Tiger basketball and continue to improve. We want to develop the grass roots and keep winning, baby.

"The kids are so resilient now (while) the coach is going crazy. Those guys don't get bothered too much. I always tell those guys not to let the pressure of competition take away from the pleasure of competition. They did a great job of that tonight."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

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