One of most off-beat traditions in high school basketball began as a simple experiment.
“We always talk about being a hard-hat group, being gritty, as that’s always been our M.O., as far as our defensive identity,” Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) coach Glenn Farello said. “Back in 2013, my assistant coach, Kevin Hargrove, who rest in peace, passed away last year (of a heart attack), said, ‘Let’s give away a hard hat.’ I told him we should go to Home Depot and let’s get a lunch pail too. Then, we started laughing when I said, ‘Let’s get a bottle of Windex too.’ ”
The first time Farello gave out the props after a win, his team was puzzled. He explained the hard hat was for the player who gave the toughest effort, someone who made a gritty play, diving for a loose ball, or generally producing plays that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. The lunch pail was for the second-place player in that category. The Windex bottle, of course, was for the player with the most rebounds, the one who had cleaned the glass.
“At first, they all looked at me like I was crazy,” Farello said. “Then as time went on, they got into the spirit of it. They celebrated it. They would nominate each other. It was really a great team-bonding thing and sparked a little rivalry and competition within the group. It’s a nice recognition for the guys doing all the blue-collar things.”
Five years later, the tradition has grown in amusing ways. The Panthers, 21-2 and the No. 7 team in the Super 25 boys basketball rankings, tweet out a photo of the award winners after games and the honorees come up with unique ways to pose for the shot, resembling at times album covers for rock bands.
“Those guys decide what they are doing for the shot,” Farello said. “Literally, it’s a production. We stand there, shaking our heads. There are guest appearances sometimes.”
Paul VI senior forward Brandon Slater, who has signed with Villanova, was intrigued the first time he won one of the awards.
“The first game they gave me either the hard hat or the lunch pail and I was, ‘I don’t know what this means, but this is cool.’ … Our stat sheet is about reflections, floor dives, all the little stuff we celebrate.”
Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese, a friend of Farello’s, incorporated the off-beat idea for her own team with a few additions, such as a lockdown-chain for the top defender and a tube of Gorilla glue for a team player.
There are similar awards out there, but mostly, the off-beat trophies are a football thing: the gaudy Miami turnover chain; the Kennesaw State turnover plank; the University of Georgia “Savage” spiked shoulder pads; and Texas A&M’s drum major mace after touchdowns.
The Panthers’ photo award traditions have come and gone. Farello photo-bombed a lot of the early shots, until that got old. The props are recycled each game, though the team is on its second Windex bottle. This year, the duffel bag award sprung up by accident.
“Coach was really tough on us after we lost the Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) game (84-62 at the Chick-Fil-A Classic on Dec. 21),” Slater said. “He said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to coach you guys.’ We came out and let (Huntington Prep) have it. After the game (an 81-48 win), I said I felt pretty good, and I got this duffel bag. I can’t tell you the meaning behind it, because we’re supposed to keep it to ourselves. That’s how it started and I didn’t put any thought to it. I didn’t think it would get the attention it gets now.”
Farello said the whole point is motivation and if that means having fun, that’s even better.
“They have the best time with it,” Farello said. “It should be fun, When you win games, celebrate it. When we first decided to do it, it was gimmicky, but the kids fell in love with it. They keep finding ways to be creative with it. Now, they expect it as part of the culture. (Assistant coach) Tracy Williams runs our Twitter account and they get upset when he waits too long to post the photo.”
The awards may help prepare Slater for playing at Villanova.
“Everything that they do go towards attitude points,” Slater said. “The winner gets to have a little slash, a little mix-tape before the next game. Players are really competitive up there, so I’m going to take another step up the ladder when I get there.”