By Patrice Nkrumah, Chicago Crusader
While the student population at Orr Academy has plummeted to 376 students, the basketball culture at the West Side school has never been higher. Last weekend the Spartans knocked off downstate Mt. Carmel 59-39 to win the Class 2A basketball championship. The win, was the first ever state title of any kind for the school.
Dannie Smith and Raekown Drake led the Spartans (23-5) with 19 and 17 points respectively. The win is a big morale boost for the school, which in recent years has faced some troubling times. After receiving a number of upgrades in the last decade, Orr has seen its student population be siphoned off by a proliferation of charter schools opening in its Austin community. But head coach Lou Adams said his school sits in arguably the high school basketball Mecca and there is always a lot of talent to choose from but he was impressed with his team’s basketball I.Q.
“We played pretty good basketball this weekend, this is the smartest we’ve ever played,” Adams said. “I wasn’t sure if we would ever get to this point when I came here in 2012. But I’ll tell you what, this is a dream come true for me and the kids.”
Orr raced out to the 16-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and led 28-14 at halftime. Orr’s speed and size was too much for Mt. Carmel (29-5) who was led by Austin Rager’s 11 points and senior Jackson Marcotte’s 17. Mt. Carmel was in un-chartered water themselves; they had never made it to the state title game.
“We came here to win two games this weekend and we didn’t get it done,” said their coach Tyler Buss. “We came up one game short, which always hurts. But when we look back on this, seeing how a community rallied behind us, it was still a special weekend.”
But for the Spartans it was jubilation. The team made a name for itself while maintaining the tradition and reputation of high school basketball on the West Side.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” said an emotional Drake. “I mean people usually talk of Westinghouse, Marshall, Crane, North Lawndale anybody but us when they think of West Side basketball. It’s good to know that we are the first Orr team to ever win state. It’s something me and my teammates will have for the rest of our lives.”
Smith said he was surprised how easily they won the championship game. He said when you go into the biggest game of the year, you are expecting tough competition. But that was not the case with Mt. Carmel.
“I don’t know if it is because we play a tough regular season schedule or if we were just really on our game, but we knew after that first quarter it was over,” Smith said. “They just didn’t have our speed or size and you could see it in their eyes they were outmatched. I think that made our confidence soar and we just did whatever we wanted out there. It was a great way to end the season.”