What does it mean to be a Cougar? Sure you play for your colors, you play for your team, but being a Cougar is much more than that.
Talk to players like Chris Whitaker and they’ll tell you there’s an edge and a pride that comes with playing for the city. Talk to fans they’ll tell you just as much.
“They are awesome, I love them they have a great program and I love the kids,” says Carol Siple of Harrisburg.
“Being a home Harrisburg person this is where my heart is and I love the Cougars and it’s just a great feeling to be here,” says Sam Jones who graduated from the school.
The school pride shouldn’t come as a surprise. Philadelphia has their pro teams, Harrisburg has their minor leagues, but no basketball. When you play for Harrisburg it’s not just the whole school behind you, the Cougars play with the entire city on their back.
“Here in Harrisburg the basketball program, both boys and girls have just been a steady hallmark for our district,” says Harrisburg head coach Kirk Smallwood. Smallwood has coached the team since 1993 and has won two state titles, this season he has the Cougars playing like a state contender once again. That said, this season has had its share of challenges.
“This team is dealing with a lot of adversity and most of it is self inflicted,” says Smallwood.
Whether it’s injuries like to leading scorer Chris Whitaker or academics it’s tough for Harrisburg to know who they’ll have on the court each night, but that doesn’t compare to what some players face away from the game.
“There’s some guys in either family-wise or community-wise… in some very, very tough kind of situations,” says Smallwood.
One of those players is senior Anthony Johnson. Now a Division 1 prospect, but after his freshman year he was sent to the Glen Mills school for troubled youth. Johnson doesn’t hide from the fact that he needed to mature.
“I learned that I was a strong person. I didn’t give up on myself and other people didn’t give up on me. I just kept going no matter what happened, I told myself it wasn’t going to affect me.”
Johnson returned to the team this season after two years at Glen Mills, his goal like the rest of this team is to win a state title. But even with Johnson in the mix, wanting a title and winning a title are two very different things. Coach smallwood believes this Harrisburg team is one that can do it.
“Once we get focused and put the goals in front of us and put the distractions aside we’ll be able to be very good when its time to be very good.”