Forbes Road surviving with six-girl army
In November, Jeff Gelvin thought he would have a girls basketball roster of nine girls, and that would have been a dream for a team that has been plagued recently by low turnouts.
But in just a few weeks, that number dropped to six.
How does a team practice with just six players? And even more importantly, how does a team win with just six players?
To find the answer, all you have to do is drive over the mountain and visit Forbes Road High School.
The Cardinals are in the midst of their best season since 2010. Despite dropping four of their first five games, they have a 5-6 record, crushing expectations with their six-girl army.
But with one body on the bench, Forbes Road has the odds stacked against it, because a number of different scenarios could threaten a successful season for the school.
Injury, sickness, ineligibility and foul trouble are just a few of the battles Forbes Road may have to face in the second half of the season, especially standing just one player above the PIAA minimum requirement to field a team.
According to PIAA rules, a team can finish a game with fewer than five eligible players, but cannot start without at least five active athletes.
"These girls play hard," Gelvin said. "They haven't missed a practice yet, and we haven't had any sickness and nobody has gotten hurt. This group works their tails off and they're learning. The biggest thing is trying to practice."
The Cardinals work with dummy cones and "never-ending" drills in practice, and have even brought in the middle school teams to work on plays.
"We do a lot of fundamentals, and I ran them very hard early in the year," Gelvin said. "But we try not to practice much more than an hour and a half. With six girls you can pretty much go over what you want to do, and it's working right now."
Forbes Road walks into the gym on game day relying on fundamentals, communication and endurance to get it through. And despite nearly every girl playing 32 minutes, with minimal game simulation during practice, the Cardinals were outscored by just 21 points in their first four losses.
This week, however, was Forbes Road's biggest challenge of the season so far, taking on undefeated Everett and 10-3 McConnellsburg on the road.
Despite a tough 57-21 loss to Everett, bringing the team down to .500, Forbes Road battled its biggest rival McConnellsburg in the Spartans' gym Thursday.
The Cardinals led for a majority of the game, but McConnellsburg's Bronwyne Mellott to hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to force overtime. Forbes Road fell 66-60 to the Spartans in extra time thanks to shooting fouls drawn by Mellott.
"I was expecting it to be close," McConnellsburg coach Brent Seville said. "I knew with the teams they played, and what they lost by, I knew that they had something this year.
"They have a great coach, and it's good that the girls stick together. He's keeping that program going. I don't know how much longer they can go, but I give him a lot of credit as a coach. I wish I had half as much knowledge as what he does."
In five wins this season, Forbes Road has outscored opponents by 87 points, with junior McKenzie Gelvin leading the way, averaging nearly 19 points per game. She scored a career-high 34 points in its win against Sideling Hill League/Inter-County Conference foe Fannett-Metal last week, which propelled the Cardinals over .500 for the first time since 2010.
"Forbes hasn't had a winning season for girls in the last couple years, and people are frustrated with it," McKenzie Gelvin said. "But we're trying to bring it back and get a winning season and prove a point to everybody."
The Forbes Road varsity field hockey team pulls in about three times the number of players as basketball, thanks to nearly 40 years of success under coach Carol Cline.
"Girls basketball in the 80s-90s was really good at Forbes Road," Jeff Gelvin said. "Then the numbers kept getting worse and worse and worse. Some girls who should be playing don't, and field hockey has just taken over Forbes Road. "
And winning draws players.
"I know these kids and they are such quality players," said Cline, who coached five of the six girls on the team during the field hockey season. "I'm sure whether it's me, you or anybody else, it's always more fun to win, and success breeds success."
Senior Mint Wilt, who plays both sports said, "I don't want to try to recruit anyone (from field hockey) because you either want to play, or you don't. Basketball is more physical, and I don't know if that scares people, but we also have cheerleading at our school and I guess some girls are into sitting on the bench rather than being on the floor."
The Forbes Road cheerleading squad has 14 members, while the team they cheer for has just six.
With a total enrollment of fewer than 100 students, it would be difficult to find a basketball team as close-knit as Forbes Road.
"I think it helps we are so close as friends because our school is so small," senior Malea Truax said. "We've grown up together and we have been really good friends forever. It brings another dynamic."
Sophomore Maddie Miller said despite having just six girls, it's still like playing with a whole team because of the closeness and level of support each player has.
Last year, the Cardinals completed the season 8-14 with seven girls - just a few wins shy of making the playoffs. Because of the loss of two seniors and just one freshman addition to the team, not many believed in Forbes Road's potential this season.
"I give hats off to coach Gelvin," Fannett-Metal coach Todd Best said. "It's unfortunate for any school to suffer from numbers, but obviously it's an epidemic that seems to be plaguing a lot of schools. He's got six girls and I think he's getting everything out of them. He has a way of manipulating things into an advantage, and if he has six girls or 20 girls, he is always going to have a quality ball club."
Thankfully, Forbes Road has not met many challenges besides talented opponents so far this season, but with graduation looming, and two seniors on the roster, coach Gelvin must hope to change the face of Lady Cardinal basketball if he wants to continue the program next season.