By Sean C. Bowers
Local Voice Columnist
New Journal and Guide
For one hundred fifteen years since its 1906 opening, Smithfield High School had never won a team sports Virginia State championship. The long drought is finally over. The 2021 Packers men’s basketball team won the Virginia 4-State Championship in late February. Their team motto was “it’s real in the field.”
Recently, I sat down to interview their head coach, Theotis Porter, in Suffolk’s Wall Street Café to discuss the team’s championship journey success. Coach Porter, a Suffolk native, played Junior College basketball himself at Beaver Country Community College, PA and Essex Community College, MD. He then cut short his personal college playing career and returned home to care for his two ailing parents and the death of his grandmother in a tragic car accident.
He first got into coaching in 2004 at King’s Fork High School as an assistant coach. They were able to win one (2009) of three title games appearances. The brand new school quickly established itself as a local 757 powerhouse.
Moving over to Smithfield as Head Coach three years ago in 2019, the team posted a winning record at 14-9. It was during that first season with the Packers that Coach Porter noticed a group of eight underclassmen (sophomores) who were athletic, lean and able to compete with anyone. They were unafraid and unintimidated.
Last year in the team’s 21-3 season, they reached the state’s semifinals before falling short 69-102, in an unforgettable let down blowout loss. That loss served as this season’s team motivation. All the players and coaches remembered exactly how bad that massive collapse felt. They never wanted to be remembered or defined by the one game where they came up short.
The Covid-19-shortened 2021 season was only ten games. The Packers were a perfect 10-0. Whenever the team got big-headed or over-confident, Coach Porter put that 69-102 final score on the scoreboard and proceeded to run the hell out of the team.
This was his way of making sure that this year’s team did not “take their foot off the gas” until the job was finished.
The Championship game pitted Smithfield against another undefeated team John Handley High School on their home court.
During their pre-game preparation scouting due diligence, Coach Porter and his staff came across some all-important intelligence that would prove to be a key to the championship victory. The head coach for John Handley stated in one of the pre-game interviews that his team had struggled with identifying and attacking changing defenses.
The Packers’ staff knew they had played basic full court pressure man-to-man defense the entire season. They also knew they had a wide array of different defenses that they had practiced regularly and used only sparingly during the regular season with minimal game film that could be scouted. Because the other team had not seen their full arsenal of Box and 1 & triangle and two defenses, they were unprepared when faced with a multitude of different changing defenses.
In the championship game, the Packers were down twelve points in the second quarter. “We were still down eight in the second half until we hit our stride with the confusion factor our defenses were causing,” Coach Porter confided.
He continued, “It was a total team and Smithfield Community Championship that was a long time coming. We had hundreds of parents, fans, students, and supporters show up at the school to welcome The Champs home from the final game, even though it was the middle of the night.
Special thanks and appreciation go out to Coach Porter’s wife, Sarah, and their three sons for their support and the home life sacrifices they made for the team’s success.
The team’s players will each receive a letter sweater. They will be a part of that first historical Virginia State Championship team banner to be raised in school history and their honor, said their coach. “We are like a big family, and we will always be remembered as being the team that came back and finally got the job done.”
Sean C. Bowers has written the last twenty-three years, as a White Quaker Southern man, for the nations’ third oldest Black Newspaper, the New Journal and Guide, of Norfolk, VA, about overcoming racism, sexism, classism, and religious persecution. Over fifty of his latest NJ&G articles (2008-2020) detailing the issues can found by searching “Sean C. Bowers” on the NJ&G website. Contact him directly by e-mail V1ZUAL1ZE@aol.com NNPA 2019 Publisher of the Year, Brenda H. Andrews (NJ&G 33 years) has always been his publisher.