“At Paxton,” former Bobcat athletic director Steve Williams intoned, “there’s a focus on winning and competing for championships.”
This has always been the case at the basketball-centric 1A school, which somehow adopted the Hoosier State’s sensibilities in a football-centric area.
Of course football was never in the cards for Paxton, all of its 35-to-40 student graduating classes. So it adopted the next biggest sport. Seven state championship banners (two boys, five girls) later, the tradition is going strong.
Case in point is this past season. While defending state champion girls won 21 games and a second straight region title, the boys piled up 24 games and fell three points shy of a final four berth.
But Williams and new athletic director Jeff Bradley, who wears many hats as head coach of the boys basketball and softball teams, argue the eight-team program is evolving into more than a basketball school.
The baseball program has furthered that narrative with nine straight district title.
And the softball program, despite winning just seven games last year, is bringing in a 15U crew that just won a state title this summer and is currently competing in nationals. And, oh yeah, the Bobcats graduated just one senior.
“I feel the softball team is on the cusp of being one of those teams that can compete for a state championship,” said Williams, who also praised Laurie Gilbert for doubling the participation numbers of the cross country and track programs since taking over.
“We’re hoping the tradition carries on and rubs off from baseball,” said Bradley, who made the baseball program what it is after being at the helm for 17 years. “We’ve been really, really young in the past, but the goal is to join the conversation of the successful programs at Pax-ton.”
It’s a minor miracle that Paxton could crack the top eight with only eight programs (keep in mind it’s average points per team rank it fourth in the area), most of which rely on starting sixth-eighth graders. Yet as Williams tells it, “Not having many sports, I feel that we were-n’t watering down the athletic program. What we do, we do well.”
Echoed Bradley, “We don’t have football, so there’s a lot of pressure — and fun — involved in matching the high expectations year in and year out that we’ve developed. For us to have consecutive years of really outstanding programs says a lot about the community and its sup-port and the commitment of the athletes.”
“There’s no sign of that stopping anytime soon.”
No. 8 Paxton eight programs = 89 points
Girls basketball: 32 (21 wins, two playoff wins, region title)
Boys basketball: 27 (24 wins, one playoff win)