Jackson Center: Ohio’s “Best Kept Secret”

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Jackson Center

Chumps to Champs. Five years ago, Jackson Center won two games. This past week, the Tigers beat Russia, Botkins, and Minster to remain unbeaten and claim the school’s 14th league crown – and first since 1998. Did we mention their coach also won his 200th game? There’s more…


The Village of Jackson Center is located in Northeast Shelby County. It
has a population of 1,369 people and since 1952, it has been the home of
the popular Airstream travel trailers and motor homes. The Village Logo
reads, “Best Kept Secret”. Just like the boys basketball team.

It’s been a long time since Jackson Center won a Shelby County League Championship.
 
How long?
 
It’s been so long….coach Scott Elchert had long, dark hair.
 
It’s been so long….skimpy basketball shorts, tube socks, and sweat bands were in style.
 
All that being said, last Tuesday was a night to remember as the Tigers clinched a share of their first County League title since 1998. They did it with defense and a team chemistry that started in fourth grade. The final was a 63-53 margin over Russia. And the icing on the cake, Elchert notched his 200th win two days before his 45th birthday.
 
The long-time coach of 17 seasons talked about the milestone, “We have had many up and down seasons. During the tough times all my kids kept plugging away. Along the way, I have had great relationships with my players. Heck, some of my former players are my best friends. That’s what’s so neat about it.”
 
Even more neat was the venue, Russia’s Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium. The place was packed and it smelled like sweat. The pep band pounded and opposing student-bodies bantered. Typical SCL fashion. What else is there to do in these small, close-knit communities?
 
Both game plans were obvious from the start. Russia pounded inside to 6-9 center Brandon Wilson and Jackson Center got the ball in the hands of 6-5 Andy Hoying.
 
The Tigers grabbed an early 4-2 lead after Hoying made a steal and converted the basket. Wilson responded with an inside spin move and the bucket. He scored again inside to knot the score at 6-6. Then the Tigers rattled off nine quick points for a 15-9 lead after the first quarter.
 
Hoying scored on an acrobatic tip-in, Trey Elchert (coach’s son) and Alex Meyer drained 15-footers in transition, and Hoying capped it with a three-point-play on a stickback.
 
Jackson Center was off and running in the second quarter and built a 27-17 lead with 1:12 left. Meyer was feeling it as he knocked down back-to-back 16-footers from the same spot on the floor and Elchert bombed his 82nd career three from the corner.
 
Wilson managed eight points for the contest, all in the first half. Well below his 15.5 average. It was a struggle as Eric Ryder and Hoying took turns guarding the big, while Meyer kept rotating over from the back-side. To compound matters, the Russia guards had difficulty getting the ball inside. Give credit to Elchert and Troy Opperman on the defensive side.
 
Raider coach Paul Bremigan addressed the situation, “They did a good job on our guards. Too many turnovers. Need to work harder on getting the ball inside to Brandon (Wilson)…I think he was trying to do a little too much when he got the ball. That will come. We needed to get him the ball in better spots.”
 
College coaches from Capital, Blufton, Trine (Indiana), and Ohio Northern were present to watch both Hoying and Wilson.
 
Assistant coach Kyle Lindsay of Trine said, “Wilson has tremendous size and decent footwork. He would definitely be a nice fit for our team.”
 
Head coach John Rhodes of Ohio Northern liked both players. He was all smiles after the game. The Polar Bears have a couple of MAC grads on the team in Tony Meyer (New Knoxville) and Scott Schnelle (New Bremen).
 
Ryder gave JC its biggest lead of the game 31-20 on a baseline 17-footer to start the third quarter. The 6-5 junior finished wiith seven points, all in the second half, and recorded nine boards. Perhaps, the unsung hero of this team, Ryder is a scrappy, junk-yard dog. He is relentless on the glass and has a knack of being in the right place at the right time.
 
Coach Elchert said, “Ryder played well inside. He did a great job on the boards. He had a great second half. He makes things happen for us.”
 
Russia clawed back to within 33-30 with 2:44 left in the period. Ethan Schafer made two foul shots, Treg Francis bombed a three, and Jacob Monnin converted a three-point-play. But Jackson answered with a 6-0 spurt to end the quarter.
 
“Every time we made a run, they responded,” said Bremigan. “They got too many offensive rebounds and we didn’t execute very well on offense. At times, I wish we would’ve been more patient.”
 
Bryce Rittenhouse kept the Raiders within spitting distance in the fourth quarter with eight points, including two threes from the perimeter. But each time, Jackson responded at the foul line. The Tigers made 14-of-18 foul shots in the final stanza and 17-of-21 for the game, a sizzling 82 percent.
 
Francis paced Russia with 12 points and Rittenhouse added 11 points.
 
Coach Elchert said, ” Every time they made a run, I could sense the crowd behind me wanting me to call a timeout. No need to because I believe in the kids and they don’t need a reminder of what to do. They know how to play through stuff.”
 
He failed to mention that it helps to have a steady influence on the court in point guard Trey Elchert. The junior isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done with poise and total command of the situation. What’s that saying, “He’s a coach’s son.”
 
Five years ago, Jackson Center won two games. Then along came freshmen Andy Hoying and Troy Opperman and the Tigers won 14 games. Two years later, sophomores Alex Meyer, Trey Elchert, and Eric Ryder developed into starters and the Tigers won 16 games last season.
 
“It’s been a gradual process,” said Elchert. “We had to begin from scratch. The kids have worked hard and have been together since fourth grade. They deserve success.”
 
This campaign, The Jackson Five have emerged and sport an impressive 15-0 overall record, a 10-0 mark in SCL action, and ranked third in the D-IV AP State Poll.
 
Hmmm. Where is all the love Kurt Stubbs? The JJHuddle Power Poll has Jackson Center ranked 20th in the state.
 
Speaking of which, talking heads keep asking, “Is this Jackson Center team for real?”
 
Everybody knows about top-ranked Berlin Hiland and second-ranked Fort Recovery. But opponents beware, this JC team resembles Fort Recovery. The Indians have 6-5 junior Wade Gelhaus, averaging 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds. He is a strong force inside and has a nice touch from the outside. He is a shoe-in for MAC Player of the Year honors.
 
Jackson Center has 6-5 senior Andy Hoying, averaging 17.2 points and 9.6 rebounds. He can post and burn on the dribble-drive. He is a sure bet to win back-to-back POY honors.
 
Knock on wood! Both teams could collide in the regional finals at Trent Arena. That would settle the debate and be one dandy matchup. Hoying vs. Gelhaus. Two clones, two hybrid-style players, running up and down the floor with their hair on fire.
 
It wasn’t coincidence seeing some of the Fort Recovery coaches scouting this game. Label it “foreshadowing”.
 
Hoying finished the night with 22 points in his usual spectacular fashion and Meyer added 16 points. Elchert tallied nine points, five assists, and no turnovers.
 
Coach Elchert concluded, “This was a big game and our kids made plays. I wish I could take a deep breath and wipe my brow, but we got Botkins Friday. They took Russia down to the wire. I got to get back, eat something, and start breaking down tape.”
 
Winner of 385 games, Bremigan concluded, “We got beat by a better team tonight. They played hard. We played hard. Our kids believe they are capable of beating anybody…Tough teams. Tough competition. Better be on “A” game in this league.”
 
Talk about creme de la creme of coaches. Look no further than the SCL. Bremigan, John Willoughby of Houston (300+ wins), and Elchert have recorded nearly 900 victories in 82 years of experience. Add Bret Meyer of Botkins to the mix and that’s over 1,000 wins. And these guys do it the hard way. No cheating. No OHSAA infractions. No bogus transfers or open-enrollment shenanigans.
 
After last Friday’s league play, the Tigers beat Botkins 72-44 for the outright SCL championship. Hoying scored 23 points with 14 rebounds and Meyer added 16 points. Russia lost to Anna 61-48 and drops to a tie for second with the Rockets. That same night, Fort Recovery lost to St. Henry 42-41.
 
The next night, the Tigers defeated Minster 62-54 to extend its unbeaten winning streak to 17 games. Hoying scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Elchert scored 14 points, including 4-of-7  from three-point-land.
 
Jackson Center concludes the regular season at Anna, winners of 10 straight, on February 17. JC defeated Anna 39-35 in the first meeting. This game promises to be another MAC war.
 
It’s been a season of milestones for this Jackson Center ball club – SCL title, Elchert’s 200th win, an unbeaten 17-0 record, Hoying scoring over 1,000 career points, and Trey Elchert’s school record 89 threes – but this “Best Kept Secret” team like its town, wants a state championship.

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