The Cottonwood boys basketball team knew they’d be setting themselves up for some challenges. Its preseason schedule was among the state’s toughest.
But the Colts didn’t know the depth of the struggles they would face.
“It’s definitely frustrating sometimes,” senior guard Hunter Hanks says. “We’re in a tougher region, but that’s not really an excuse. You try to use that feeling of losing to push yourself harder in practice and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
It’s been a thorny path for the team, which lost its first five region games. Beyond losing, there’s also been some significant obstacles off the court. Key transfer Deng Deng was ruled ineligible by the UHSAA, and Tunyang Gatbel, a student of a correctional school who was initially allowed to play with the team, was arrested during the season opener against Olympus.
The Colts don’t have much size, and they don’t have any particular player who might classify as “elite,” and many of the teams they face in Region 3 do — as has become painfully clear. Jordan Loveridge dropped 23 points and 21 rebounds on them for West Jordan. Brandon Miller scored 27 for Brighton. Mark Krueger had 29 points and 13 rebounds for Jordan.
And yet for a team that has been burned a lot so far this season, the atmosphere around the program is relatively upbeat.
“The main thing we have to do is look at our next game, and we have to think about how to improve,” senior guard Will Anderl says. “We feel like we have good captains, we’re good at staying together as a team. Our coach tells us to hold each other accountable, and we really try to be honest with each other.”
On any team, losing takes its toll, but Cottonwood has had the benefit of some extra perspective. Once a week, 22 players on the varsity and JV teams take a trip to the nearby Hartvigsen School, which serves students with disabilities.
The Colts spend about an hour working with the students, whether it’s simply playing games with them or helping them complete tasks that are normally a challenge. Anderl spent time in a writing class helping one boy write letters to his brother, who’s on an LDS Church mission.
“I really like helping him because I have a brother on a mission, too,” he says. “We’ll come practice before school so we can spend more time with the kids [after school]. It’s really fulfilling.”
Coach Cory Martin decided to start the trips as a way of reminding his players that life isn’t all about basketball. Firsthand, he’s seen exactly what a difference the trips make.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opener for them,” Martin says. “It’s impacted them for the positive. A lot of them have really opened up to service and working with these kids.”
It’s put a challenging season in a much wider context. Although everyone wants to win, the work they do at the Hartvigsen School has reminded particularly the seniors that their time playing basketball is limited, but precious. Not everyone has the ability to enjoy being on a high school team.
It’s also a reminder that a number of far more important consequences lie just on the horizon for them.
“I really liked working with a kid named Conley [Chadwick], helping him learn to read new words, and learn colors and stuff like that,” senior guard Jesse Walker says. “It helps me think in the long run. I might want to be a pediatrician, because I want to work in the medical field, and this has helped me realize I love working with kids.”
There’s more games in Cottonwood’s future, and it’s likely they’ll have to go through a few more losses before the season ends. Playoff hopes are distant at this point.
But as the Colts have learned this season, there’s a whole lot more in life to look forward to.
“We won’t always have basketball, but if we come back five years from now to visit those kids, they’ll hopefully remember us,” Hanks says. “We’ll definitely remember them.”
Colts use service to stay positive
Once a week, the Colts go to the Hartvigsen School, for children with disabilities, and volunteer.
They help out in either physical education class and play games, or in reading and writing classes to help tutor students.