The small gymnasium at Berman Hebrew Academy overflowed with fans to watch the Cougars middle school boys basketball team win their first Potomac Valley Athletic Conference championship in school history. The PVAC is a group of independent schools in Maryland and Washington.
Behind Berman 8th grader Alex August’s 24 points, the Cougars clawed out a 42-37 victory against St. Anselm’s on Feb. 23.
“I’m so proud of him because he didn’t let himself get down during the season when people were saying he shouldn’t shoot so much,” Berman head coach Marlon Clay told WJW. “But he stayed with it. And you see what happens. I’m proud of him. I can’t ask for much more from him.”
The Cougars led by four at halftime and extended that lead to 10 entering the fourth quarter. St. Anselm’s launched a modest effort in the dwindling minutes of the game, cutting the deficit to four with 1:05 remaining.
However, that comeback was cut short when August blocked a 3-pointer that would have made it a one-possession game, and proceeded to hit a 3-pointer of his own at the other end of the court to ice it.
As the clock wound down and the final buzzer sounded, more than 100 Berman students spilled onto the court in celebration.
The Potomac Valley Athletic Conference tournament includes the top eight teams from the 11-team league. The Cougars were at the top of the standings with a 10-0 record in the league.
The Cougars’ road to an undefeated season was not without adversity however. Their 2020-‘21 season was canceled due to COVID-19, and they didn’t have as much time to practice in the offseason as they normally do.
Clay, who had been with Berman’s athletic program — primarily as a junior varsity coach — for 10 years before taking over as middle school head coach this year, said this game was a culmination of everything they worked for in their abbreviated offseason.
“These guys have been busting their butts the whole season and the off season,” Clay said. “So it had to end this way. They started at the top, and they ended at the top.”
Before handing the banner and plaque to the victorious Cougars, Berman athletic director Yonah Singer told WJW that basketball is a big part of the school’s culture, and seeing the team win a PVAC championship after years of it being just out of reach was exciting.
“It’s a credit to these guys for really stepping up their game this year,” he said. “They went through a lot and they persevered.”