Winning two basketball championships in the highest division in the same season is a rare achievement. Stuart Hall seventh graders have done it in back-to-back years under head coach Buzz Butler.
The top Stuart Hall seventh grade basketball team won the CYO 7-1 championship 52-50 on February 12 to claim its second title in as many weeks, with the BAIAL title being earned the week before. The two wins, both against Town School, mark a celebratory end to a near perfect 17-1 season.
Over the past three seasons, the team — consisting of the same group of boys — has been just about unbeatable. They have posted a staggering 42-4 record under head coach Buzz Butler, having also swept CYO and BAIAL titles last year. In fifth grade, the team won all but one regular season game before falling short in the championship.
Buzz, who attended Stuart Hall in the 1970s, started coaching at the school when his sons, Quinn Butler SHB'09 and Connor Butler SHB'11, were old enough to join school teams. "It was an incredible experience," Buzz says of his time at Stuart Hall as a student. "I tell these kids, 'don't take this place for granted.'"
At 6 feet 9 inches tall, Buzz put together a nice basketball career as a player, first at University of California at Berkeley, followed by stints of pro ball in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and later in Australia. For part of one season with the Albany Patroons of the CBA, Buzz played for legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson. A time that could have been a footnote in Buzz's playing career had a salient effect on forming his own coaching philosophy.
"Phil's mantra was body, heart and soul," Buzz recalls. "He was big on the spiritual component, believing in something bigger than yourself and staying in the moment."
For his part, Buzz follows a similar playbook. "I talk to kids all the time about staying present," he says, "and they know I love them first, that's most important."
When it comes to basketball, Buzz's teams learn to play an up-tempo style. "If you're in good condition, you have a good shot at winning and a greater capacity for learning," he says. "I don't teach them a lot of plays; I teach them how to play."
The emphasis on fundamentals and basketball concepts rather than X's and O's has helped unlock the potential for Buzz's seventh grade team. "It's a beautiful dance when the ball is bouncing right," he says. Next year, "the goal will be to get them ready to play at the next level and have success."
The fourth quarter of the CYO 7-1 championship game against Town School. Video by Mark Lui.