Skip to main content

Chester County Press

The chessmen of Unionville

It is very fitting that every quote in this editorial is attributed to legendary basketball coach John Wooden, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

It is not often that adults take their life lessons from teenagers, and rarer still do they derive their inspiration from a group of sophomore, junior and senior high school athletes who apply their young skills on the gleaming floors of local gymnasiums, and yet, there is an incredible narrative happening now among us whose story must be told.

For the past two seasons, the varsity boys’ basketball team at Unionville High School – under the tutelage of Head Coach Chris Cowles and assistants Eddie Anderson, Justin Martin and Matt Porecca – have been holding four-month seminars in the art of selflessness, teamwork and commitment. From December through March, they apply these lessons in the form of participation, divided into four quarters before their opponents, their parents and their fellow classmates. While their fundamental theorems have been carved from the chalkboard genius of the sport’s finest architects – Auerbach, Wooden, Krzyzewski, Popovich and Kerr – their application on the basketball court has become that of harmonious design, carved entirely from their on hands. 

On both ends of the floor, the patterns of their game hum rhythmically: the swarming defense, the rebound, the outlet transition, the no-look pass, the sweet and high launch of a three-pointer that will find its proper destination, and the sixth sense of anticipating where their teammates will be on the floor at any time.

Save for their variance in height and build, so consistent is the display of these skills that they occasionally seem indistinguishable from one another. They are all chessmen, honed by the over-and-overness of well-rehearsed ritual, thinking three steps ahead.

“The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning.”

It could be said that while the success of the Unionville basketball program is due to many of the players having played together for the past several years, the first real fruit of their work began to blossom during the 2022-23 season, when they breezed their way to a 22-4 overall record and defeated Upper Merion and Chichester to reach the PIAA District 1 5A state championship game, when they were outmatched by a superb and undefeated Radnor team on March 4, 2023 at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia.

As they prepared for the 2023-24 season, one year older than the year before, Cowles’ team seemed to have gone into brief hibernation, returning to the woodshed to re-shape and re-define their approach to the game. After compiling a 22-3 overall record this past regular season, they marched through two rounds of the PIAA playoffs as a number 1 seed, and last Thursday, blew past a tough Upper Dublin squad to record the program’s first title since 1981. 

“I believe in the basics: attention to, and perfection of, tiny details that might be commonly overlooked. They may seem trivial, perhaps even laughable to those who don’t understand, but they aren’t. They are fundamental to your progress in basketball, business, and life. They are the difference between champions and near champions.”

This Friday evening, the Unionville boys’ basketball team will host a first round PIAA state playoff game against visiting Manheim Central, and if they are fortunate to climb through the tangle of brackets in the tournament, they do so with the realization that the glimmer of these moments will soon disappear. Limelight is not a forever gift, but the lessons they have given us – that success is best found by utilizing the strengths of every person – is a gift that they will carry with them long after they leave the court as a team for the last time, and in turn, leave that gift for us to learn from.