One man down, a Fort Jackson youth basketball team narrowly lost this year's championship game.

Even so, the Fort Jackson Hawks -- the 11 to 12-year-old summer basketball team on post -- advanced to county last Thursday.

County is the league's highest level of competition. Only winners of the district championships -- the first round of playoffs -- advance to this stage.

After an undefeated season, the team of sixth grade students was overcome in the final round of competition Aug. 2.

One of the team's key players was on a pre-planned vacation, Coach Charles Taylor said. The schedule could not be changed. The team had to forge ahead.

The Hawks lost by just three points.

It happened in "the final seconds of the game," Taylor said.

A team from Blythewood -- one Fort Jackson hadn't previously played this season -- won.

The Hawks' success up until that point was something special, though.

A Richland County Recreation Commission partner, the Fort Jackson team travels around the Midlands playing away-games during the summer.

Despite a challenging season, the team was undefeated prior to reaching the county level.

This is just the third time an impeccable record has been maintained in the team's six-year history, said Darius Lane, Fort Jackson's director of youth sports.

Ever since the third game of the season, Taylor said he has had a good feeling about the Hawks' chances.

"They finally bought into the defense system" during that game, he said. "It clicked into place."

Having coachable kids was a big advantage to their success, Taylor added.

He pointed out one player in particular.

At the onset of the season, Chris Hobbs "seemed really disinterested" in the sport, Taylor said.
By the end, he was one of the best players on the team. His defensive skills especially stood out. Hobbs was a great example of a pupil "learning to be coachable."

Still, the season wasn't all smooth sailing.

"We definitely had a tight game," Taylor admitted. The second-to-last game the Hawks played went into overtime. Fort Jackson soared to win by just two points.

"The kids were excited" when they won district championships, Taylor said.

In overcoming a number of challenges, the students helped Taylor achieve a new feat.

Summer 2018 marks the first time he has led a basketball team to the county level with a continuous winning streak in his four years of coaching.

This is particularly noteworthy because "the other teams have continuity," Lane explained. Every season, Fort Jackson has to recruit new players.

The team will have new members during the winter and summer seasons.

Every season, there's a buildup of talent that takes practice. Cohesion takes time, and Fort Jackson teams don't have a lot of it.

When they defeat competitors from the surrounding region that can grow together year after year, that's something worthy of mention.