Commentary

Lengthy winning streaks embraced despite pressure

It should seem obvious that most people who get involved with high school sports do so because they love it.

For athletes, being on time for practice, the ability to juggle numerous tasks including schoolwork and the risk of injury are just some of the things they have to consider every time they commit to competing in a sport.

For many coaches, leading a program is usually like a second full-time job, but one in which the reward of playing for championships often comes with parental pressure, oodles of rules and teenagers to discipline.

As if those involved in prep sports don't have enough to deal with, some area athletes and coaches have a burden that spans years and has little to do with their current teams.

The Africentric and Reynoldsburg girls and Northland and Watterson boys basketball teams have shared the common weight of a streak.

The Africentric girls had won 121 consecutive City League-South Division games before playing Briggs on Jan. 14, and the Reynoldsburg girls have won 53 consecutive OCC-Ohio contests.

The Northland boys have won 110 consecutive games against City League teams, including the last seven City championship games.

Although the Watterson boys' streak was of a different nature, the Eagles won a team-record 31 consecutive games before losing at Middletown 56-43 on Jan. 11. The defending Division II state champions hadn't lost since Jan. 5, 2013.

While Africentric's run through the City-South is the longest among those streaks, there seems to be little danger that it will be broken soon.

During the streak, which began in 2005, the Nubians have won two Division IV state championships and one Division III title, and this year's team is as deep as any of those teams.

Northland's run against City competition began in 2006 when current Boston Celtics player Jared Sullinger was a freshman and has continued under Sean Taylor, who took over as coach in the 2011-12 season, replacing Sullinger's father, Satch.

"It definitely means something," Taylor said. "We feel responsible to those who started the streak. We know it will eventually be broken, but the guys don't want to be that team."

In the case of Reynoldsburg, coach Jack Purtell isn't sure most of his players are even aware of what the program has accomplished.

"I'm obviously very proud of it, but it isn't something we talk about," he said. "I've never heard them utter a word about it."

If the Raiders' streak spans many more years, you can bet that will change.

Pickerington North girls coach Dave Butcher can attest to that.

Butcher, who won 23 consecutive Division I district titles from 1989-2011 at Pickerington and Pickerington North, guided Pickerington to a 74-game winning streak that started in the 1991-92 season and ended in the 1994 state final.

In addition, from 1987-2001, the Tigers won 181 consecutive league games.

"We never talked about it," Butcher said. "But you talk to players now as adults and moms, and they'll come up to me and say, 'We knew about (the streaks). They were important to us.' They wanted to hold on to that tradition."

There's something to be said for keeping pressure, even the kind like a long winning streak that has as much to do with the past as it does the present, in perspective.

All of the players and coaches involved can say they at least played a part in continuing their program's run, and that's something few have an opportunity to do.

That's the kind of reward that can make all of the stresses of being involved in prep sports worth it.

Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.

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