Sometimes the best way to save a season is to pretend you play a different sport.
As odd as that may seem, it’s the precise strategy that helped resurrect a strong campaign for Thornwood High, which is cruising toward the IHSA playoffs a year after a 24-5 season. To be fair, the expectations were always high after a season like that, with plenty of senior leadership returning. The issue was Thornwood’s 2015 campaign was notoriously slow getting off the blocks.
As detailed in this profile from the Chicago Tribune, the Thunderbirds got off to a 5-5 start, with veteran coach Paul Slavich struggling to figure out what was going wrong. He decided he needed to take drastic measures. It was time to go bowling.
“I told them that I bowl about once every five years and that I was going to kick their butts,” Slavich told the Tribune. “These kids like a challenge. Some of our most talented (basketball) players were throwing gutter balls and some of our kids who aren’t considered our top players were throwing strikes.
“I think that experience brought them closer together. It gave them a reason to interact with each other outside of school and get to know one another.”
The coach followed that up with a more tried-and-true team-building exercise: He made everyone on the team buddy up with a partner who they didn’t spend much time around and learn more about them.
The results have been an unquestionable success. Since that night of bowling, days after Christmas, Thornwood has rattled off 11 consecutive victories. The school is rapidly catching up to its 2013-14 highs and could still make a run in the state tournament, with senior guard Kaliph Fagan helping lead the way.
To think that a bowling ball could go so much farther than the end of a lane in setting the course for a team’s success.
“That meant a lot to how we’re playing now,” Fagan told the Tribune. “It got us together and we learned about each other. We learned things we didn’t know about teammates and it’s brought us closer as a team. … It really helped us all come together. We’re a different team.”