LINCOLN PARK — Francis W. Parker High School coach Lamar Butler didn’t know what to expect from his girls basketball team heading into the year. Injuries and walkouts had ravaged his roster, venom for his fast-paced style.
“So I talked about identity: defense, togetherness, unity and effort,” he said. “I told them the rest would figure itself out.”
That philosophy paid off for the Parker team, which took home its first ever regional championship this year. The Colonels beat Ogden International School of Chicago 61-39 on Feb. 13.
Parker played most of the year with just six full-time varsity players, backed by a platoon of jayvee contributors, including three freshmen.
“We went through a lot this year, but our position was that we were going to play with whatever we had in our corner,” Butler said.
Senior guard Rachel Gross said she’s played with a short bench since freshman year.
“It gave us all more experience, which helped. And it made us closer,” she said.
Senior center Johanna Mintz said Parker built momentum atop the doubts of others.
“No one really thought we could win regionals, so that helped drive us,” she said.
Butler believes Parker benefited this year from a strong, almost preternatural ability to communicate with one another.
At one point this season, the Colonels came out flat the first half against North Shore Country Day High School. Their defense was lax, passes flat and shots off-target. At halftime Butler scribbled a single word onto a dry-erase board and asked the team what they thought was missing the first two quarters.
“Energy,” they told him. Butler flipped the board and revealed the same diagnosis.
Parker bounced back the second half for a resounding comeback win.
By the time the postseason arrived in early February, Parker had notched home-court advantage for regionals. They won back-to-back games for the title.
“We were just starting to find our true rhythm,” junior forward Paris Rosenthal said.
After the game, some players reflected on the win and the notion of legacy.
“To be able to cap off our four years this way, it was a great bookend,” Mintz said.
As her prep basketball career drew to a close, one memory stuck out for senior forward Jadah Jones, who came to Parker as a freshman.
“I remembered my first basket here, dribbling up the court with no form, and watching it go through the hoop,” she said. “Just how far we’ve all come.”
The Colonels ultimately lost in the sectional tournament, after which Butler asked his four seniors to address the team. Jones drew from her own improvement.
“I told the underclassmen they could do it. They could go past what we’ve already accomplished,’” she said.
Butler had the final word for his team, many of whom will now shift to spring sports.
“I told them they should be proud and that they deserved to walk out of that gym with their heads held high,” Butler said. “They’d exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
The team ended the season at 15-12.