by TOM NADER | RECORD-COURIER SPORTS EDITOR
Bainbridge -- As Josh Jakacki stood on the sideline watching his Crestwood Red Devils work through their pregame warmups, a T-shirt caught his eye.
The back of a black-and-gold Windham shirt read: "Back-to-back-to-back champions."
Jakacki said he paused for a moment to think about what it meant to three-peat. "Honestly, I couldn't help but think about how much hard work it had to take to do that," he remembers.
That was during the 2003-04 season, with Jakacki in his fourth season as a head coach at his alma mater.
Fast forward a decade and Jakacki now knows exactly what it feels like to win three straight titles. In fact, he knows the feeling of a four-peat, having just led the Kenston boys basketball team to its fourth consecutive Chagrin Valley Conference league championship.
Jakacki resigned as the Crestwood coach following the 2005-06 season and eventually accepted a position as an assistant coach on the Kenston staff under Bob Patton. When Patton moved on to Westlake one year later, Jakacki was named the school's new basketball mentor.
Now in his sixth year with the Bombers, Jakacki has posted a record of 96-35. More impressively, his team is 45-3 in CVC games during the last three seasons. Unfortunately, the Bombers' 2012-13 season ended March 2 with a 69-49 loss to Cleveland Heights in the Division I sectional tounament at Solon.
Through all of the success at Kenston, though, there is not a day that goes by that Jakacki does not think about Crestwood.
"I am the person I am today because of Crestwood. For so many years of my life I would drive down Route 82 and turn south to go to Crestwood.
"NOW I TURN north to go to Kenston," said Jakacki, who still lives inside the Crestwood School District with his wife Alisha and five children -- sons Mason, 11, and Trent, 9; and daughters Avery, 7, Calli, 6, and Lexie, 2.
Jakacki candidly said that becoming a head coach again after leaving Crestwood was not necessarily on his radar.
"I was perfectly content being an assistant coach," he said. "I was comfortable with that role and with a growing family, it was a good fit."
Ultimately, though, it was too good of an opportunity for Jakacki to pass up and having spent a year as an assistant becoming familiar with the players and community helped ease the transition.
"Kenston has always been like a second home to me because my wife [Alisha] is a Kenston grad," Jakacki said. "I always had great support at Crestwood, and I felt the same at Kenston."
After second-place finishes in his first and second seasons with 14 and nine wins, respectively, Jakacki and his Bombers have finished nothing short of champions.
Every team and every season has "produced a different story," according to Jakacki, who is an eighth grade language arts and reading teacher at Kenston. For this year's team, the story is simple but profound.
"This year's group was really special because they are, without question, the true meaning of a team," Jakacki said. "We had 11 players that will letter and had 10 players average four or more points. The players played for each other and really bought into what we were trying to do."
At Kenston, that means being ready to play defense. All the time. Since taking over the program, Jakacki's Bombers have held opponents to an average of 44 points per game.
"OUR PHILOSOPHY begins and ends with defense and our players are very dialed in to that," Jakacki said. "They know that understanding our defensive concepts will be valued and will lead to playing time. It takes zero talent to hustle and play defense."
His Bombers may not be considered flashy, but Jakacki is OK with that because he takes more pride in the fact that the team respects fundamental basketball.
Jakacki, who remains Crestwood's all-time leading scorer (1,278 points) and was a three-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference guard at Hiram College, is not the only former Red Devil that is molding the Kenston program into winners.
Included on his staff is longtime Crestwood coach Bob Lieberth, along with former Red Devils players Alan Vanderink and Danny Lieberth.
"They are unbelievable," Jakacki said. "This has been a collective effort. Not just our coaching staff, but we empower our kids to guide the program."
Outside of the gymnasium, Jakacki has a strong support system that begins with his wife Alisha.
"Behind every good coach is a great woman. For me, I am fortunate to spend every day with the most incredible person I have ever met. Having her support and sharing this journey with her makes it that much more special to me," Jakacki said.
Jakacki also praised his parents, Mark and June of Hiram, for what they have meant to him.
"They are incredible," he said. "They are the ones that taught me the irreplaceable values that I live my life by. The ones I share with my family and the ones I coach with."
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