The Florida School for the Deaf girls basketball team was invited to Clerc Classic XX in Indianapolis, the biggest high school basketball tournament for deaf schools. The Dragons (7-2) will face California School for the Deaf-Riverside on Thursday afternoon.
Wednesday will be the first time Oliva Brown boards an airplane. For J’Myra Harris, Wednesday morning’s jaunt from Jacksonville won’t even be the first time her athletic adventures at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind have led her to take flight.
Both girls will represent the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind girls basketball team at the Clerc Classic in Indianapolis this weekend. The invitation-only tournament features eight of the best deaf basketball teams from across the country. Clerc Classic XX is the first time the Dragons girls and boys basketball teams have been invited.
FSDB will send its girls basketball team, boys basketball team and cheerleading squad to the campus of the Indiana School for the Deaf for the tournament. All three will compete, but it’s the girls team that finished 20-6 that opened the door for the other programs to also head to Indiana’s capital city.
“We have prepared our skills and improved from last year,” said Brown, a sophomore guard who averages a team-leading 16.5 points per game. “We have been the foundation.”
No. 3 seeded FSDB opens the three-day tournament on Thursday afternoon against California School for the Deaf-Riverside.
″(I’m looking forward to) winning the championship and showing other teams that we just as good of basketball players as they are,” Brown said.
The Dragons return every player from last year’s team that won 20 games for the first time in decades, claimed the 2nd Mason-Dixon Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association Championship and won a game in the FHSAA District 2-4A tournament.
Joy Moers, the third-year coach of the Dragons, said she, Athletic Director Donna Johnson, boys basketball coach Eric LeFors and others in the school’s administration reached out to school president Jeanne Prickett for her permission to participate. Prickett granted the request. The next step was to wait and hope an invitation would arrive.
It did in early February 2019 as the Dragons were wrapping up the season.
“We knew the AD at Clerc was interested,” Moers said. ”...We announced it in February when we celebrated our Mason-Dixon (championship.) The whole school came and we announced we were invited to the Clerc Classic.”
For Moers, it was an accomplishment she set out for the program when she arrived. To the players, this weekend’s tournament is a chance to compete with the best.
“We started as a young team,” said junior Shanna Cooley. “We practice hard. We work harder and we don’t give up. We persevere. It doesn’t matter if we play good defense. We develop that skill, come to morning practices, evening practices. ...We have one player who joined us. We have grown together. We have been together for three years and we keep improving.”
Active hands, trapping and an energetic zone defense have been hallmarks of Moers’ tenure. This season, FSDB has developed an offense that is not reliant on fast break points and creating in transition.
The Dragons (7-2) head to Indiana having won two straight. FSDB has the stingiest defense in Northeast Florida, holding opponents to 19.9 points per game. Brown’s scoring is ninth in Northeast Florida. Junior forward Lourdine Jordonne’s 10.9 rebounds per game are fifth in Northeast Florida and lead all St. Johns County players.
Jordonne and Olivia Brown were FSDB’s two offensive leaders last season. The two are central figures to the Dragons offense, but tertiary scorers have emerged. On some nights it’s Brown’s younger sister, Oceana, has scored in double figures four times this season and Harris, a junior shooting guard, scored 10 points with four rebounds and four assists in the Dragons’ most recent win, a 49-25 conquest over Impact Christian.
“We had to work on different skills and hold together as one on offense,” Harris said. “We will shoot when open, read the plays, play smart and pass.”
At times that is giving Jordonne, Samantha Suarez, Keliah Williams or Elsie Essex touches in the post. Others, that leads to the Brown sisters pulling up and draining jump shots.
What encouraged Moers about last week’s win over Impact Christian was the Dragons immediate application of the lessons learned in a 48-14 win over Halifax Academy.
Beating small private schools across Northeast Florida is one thing. Competing against some of the best deaf programs in the United States is another.
“It’s a national tournament. We have never had that experience,” said Harris, who represented FSDB’s track team in California last spring. “The biggest freakout is (having) never competed with them before. We have never seen them play. We have to have faith and belief. We were picked to play in this tournament for a reason and we want to win that championship!”
Though FSDB lost to St. Joseph earlier this season, the 42-32 loss may serve the Dragons well in Indiana and throughout the rest of the season. Using a 1-3-1 zone defense, FSDB held its rival to 30.1 % shooting from the field and forced 19 turnovers, but lost because St. Joseph made six 3-pointers. Monday, Moers said she and the coaching staff realized the Dragons needed a countermeasure to stop a 3-point shooter.
Those defenses will be immediately put to the test in Indianapolis. California School for the Deaf-Riverside is led by sophomore guard Bree Goldstein, who is shooting 36.5 % from 3-point range this season. Goldstein leads the Cubs in points (18.6), steals (4.8) and assists (3.1). The Cubs (12-2) have won when their best player is not on, but the Dragons have no intention of finding out for themselves.
Thursday’s opponent is 12-2. Should FSDB win, the third-seeded Dragons would likely face a Maryland School for the Deaf program that has won 20-plus games in six straight seasons and enters the Clerc Classic 10-3 this year. Awaiting in the final is likely the Texas School for the Deaf that is 20-2 and ranked No. 1 in Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 4A-Private rankings.
Moers and the coaching staff know the Dragons have the talent to compete with the best. She wanted a chance to prove it on the court and this week’s tournament is the opportunity she envisioned.
The support from alumni, faculty and St. Augustine’s deaf community has meant everything to the Dragons. Cooley could not contain her excitement as she described what it meant to her and her teammates to have the FSDB community behind them as they prepare to fly to Indiana.
“It’s inspired us,” Cooley said. “They come watch us play. They have seen our growth and how much we have developed. It’s nice to have teachers and staff who have encouraged us and come to our games.”
Clerc Classic XX
Indiana School for the Deaf
1. Texas School for the Deaf
2. Maryland School for the Deaf
3. Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind
4. Indiana School for the Deaf
5. Model Secondary School for the Deaf
6. California School for the Deaf- Riverside
7. California School for the Deaf- Fremont
8. Wisconsin School for the Deaf
Thursday, Jan. 16
Game 2: Texas vs. Wisconsin, 9:30 a.m.
Game 4: Maryland vs. CSD-Fremont, 12:30 p.m.
Game 6: FSDB vs. CSD-Riverside, 3:30 p.m.
Game 8: Model at Indiana, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 17
Game 14: Game 6 vs. Game 4 winner, 3:30 p.m.
Game 16: Game 2 vs. Game 8 winners, 6:30 p.m.
Game 10: Game 6 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 9:30 a.m.
Game 12: Game 2 vs. Game 8 loser, 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 18
Championship: 8 p.m.
Third place: 4:30 p.m.
Seventh place: Game 12 loser vs. Game 10 loser, 9:30 a.m.
Consolation Championship: Game 12 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 9:30 a.m.
1. Model Secondary School for the Deaf
2. Maryland School for the Deaf
3. California School for the Deaf- Fremont
4. Texas School for the Deaf
5. Indiana School for the Deaf
6. Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind
7. California School for the Deaf-Riverside
8. New York School for the Deaf
Thursday, Jan. 16
Game 1: Model vs. New York, 8 a.m.
Game 3: Maryland vs. CSD-Riverside, 11 a.m.
Game 5: CSD-Fremont vs. FSDB, 2 p.m.
Game 7: Texas at Indiana, 5 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 17
Game 13: Game 5 vs. Game 3 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 15: Game 1 vs. Game 7 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 9: Game 5 vs. Game 3 loser, 8 a.m.
Game 11: Game 1 vs. Game 7 loser, 11 a.m.
Saturday, Jan. 18
Championship: 6:15 p.m.
Third Place: 3 p.m.
Seventh place: Game 11 loser vs. Game 9 loser, 8 a.m.
Consolation championship: Game 11 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 8 a.m.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit www.fsdbk12.org