Basketball is a sport in which, if the team plays as one, its level of success becomes higher.

Eight players from Lincolnville Central School, who already worked as a well-oiled machine on the hardwood, saw an opportunity to challenge themselves even further.

“This group of young men are a talented bunch of athletes, but more importantly they are young men of character,” Principal Paul Russo said. ”As seventh-graders, they won the Busline League Small School Division and they made the decision to come up with a presentation to petition up to the Large School Division to seek stronger competition and really challenge themselves.”

Russo said the Lincolnville Lynx team members knew they could hang another championship banner in the gym, but the thought of winning at an average of 20 to 30 points a game would not help them grow as players.

“They came to me and asked about petitioning up and I was all for it,” Russo said. “This was becoming bigger than basketball; it was about these young men making mature decisions about pushing themselves to be better people, not [just better] basketball players.”

Traditionally, Lincolnville Central School fields combined seventh- and eighth-grade teams and only twice in the last 15 years have there been enough players to field a team for each grade. Russo said one of the benefits to combining grade levels is it enables more younger kids to play with the older kids, and that was one of the reasons this year's eighth-grade boys wanted to change.

The eighth-grade players, Ionut Lodge, Michael Kremin, Noah Lang, Carson Whitney, Dawson Allen, Trey Gilson, Zachary Markowitz and Justin Secotter, decided to request school committee approval to move up and compete against middle school teams like Medomak (Waldoboro), Oceanside (Thomaston/Rockland), Troy Howard (Belfast) and Camden-Rockport.

Kremin explained, “We felt that moving up and challenging ourselves would not only make us better basketball players, but it also teaches us the process to do things the right way. So we got together and created a presentation that shows that it would benefit us in more ways than one.”

The team presented its proposal to the school committee and received approval, so the next step was hiring another coach. The team was able to find one of the longest-tenured varsity basketball coaches in the state in Jay Carlsen.

Carlsen led the Camden-Rockport/Camden Hills Windjammers girls' varsity basketball program through three decades, starting in the 1980s.

Lodge said, “Coach has been amazing and we have grown closer and have become better players and teammates. He has taught us a lot about playing the game and he has helped us challenge ourselves to get to the next level on and off the court.”

Team members admitted they had no expectations when the season started and, according to a few of them, they would have been happy winning only a few games. However, that was not the case, as the Lynx bolted out of the gates and, at season's end, found themselves in the championship game.

“The team gave it everything they had and came up short against a very talented Oceanside team and they were all right with that,” Russo said. ”These young men played for each other and that will transcend athletics. They have great family support and I will always support something that will lead to bigger and better things for our students.”

All but two of the players said they will continue to play basketball in high school.

Gilson said, “I really look forward to finally getting to high school and being able to go to that next level in both sports and school. I have grown up playing basketball with school and travel teams and at the Y; I hope that we can continue to play together as a team when we get there.”

Lang and Allen will forgo playing basketball, trading high-tops for head gear as both will be impact freshmen on the Camden Hills Windjammers wrestling team.

The team members agreed the journey they took beginning last spring and seeing it all the way through to the very end taught them they could accomplish things if they stayed focused and kept challenging themselves every day.

They are also proud that they will always be known as the Lincolnville kids who made the change so future students can challenge themselves as well.

Courier Publications reporter Dwight Collins can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at dcollins@villagesoup.com.