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by Mark Cheffey
Panther Ball season is under way.
Grown out of a strong friendship between the Palmyra High School boys and girls basketball team coaches, and a desire by them to foster stronger team, school and community support, the emphasis is being moved from two teams to one this season.
And, it showed strongly last Tuesday night as both teams won their season openers over Elsberry in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd (see games stories inside).
The boys and girls teams were high-fiving each other as well as members of the crowd–the girls team went up into the stands to interact with the fans following their victory, going up and down the aisles in thanks for the support of those attending.
“It’s Panther Ball,” said Timothy Southers, the new girls team coach. “Everything we say is Panther Ball. It’s not two team. It’s one team.
“And, you’ll see that. You’ll see this one united form.”
“We want to make this one team, not boys and girls teams,” said Brian Rea, the boys coach, who noted the two squads even worked together at times during pre-season practice.
“We’d practice together some and be together for open shooting,” Rea said. “We want this to be a family and bring the community together behind us.
“It’s all about making sure the kids enjoy an experience they will always remember.”
“Coach Rea and I are tremendous friends and brothers,” Southers said.
And out of that coaching friendship comes Panther ball. Rea may be coaching the boys team, and Southers the girls, but through their close working relationship, they have decided to throw off the separation of the teams, hoping to form one happy family, one team.
Southers grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where he was adopted as an infant by a couple he will always be grateful for.
“They really saved my life, because my mom was in a really bad place,” Southers said.
Southers went to the large Youngstown South High School, graduating class of about 300, for two years before finishing up the next two years at Howland Christian School, in Warren, Ohio. where he graduated with 14 others.
He then went to Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio on a basketball scholarship.
Southers said he really didn’t think about coaching until he was a graduate assistant at Urbana University where he was pursued his master’s degree and assisted with the women’s basketball team.
And pretty soon, he landed a job leading the Midway College (now university) women’s basketball program.
“It’s funny. I had just turned 23 on Sept. 5, and I started my job and one of my players had the exact same birthday and she turned 22,” Souther said.
He coached there for seven years at what was an all-women’s school at the time, and brought the program some excitement.
“They hadn’t had much success there, but in seven years, I was able to build it into a conference champions.
He was then recruited in 2018 to be head coach at Culver-Stockton College.
“But I didn’t have a lot of success there,” said Southers, who coached there for two years before becoming an assistant girls coach at Quincy High School.
While there he happened to see a junior high game against a Unity-Peyson, Ill. team coached by Brian Rea, who was the also the boys varsity coach and AD at the school which was preparing to bring back girls basketball that had been shut down years earlier.
After the game, Southers introduced himself to Rea and complimented him on his coaching job that evening, making connection that would result in Rea recruiting him to become the coach of the newly reformed Unity-Peyson High School girls team.
“And from that chance meeting, we ended up coaching together,” said Rea who was touched by Souther’s infectious ly upbeat attitude and unique coaching resume from which Southers could bring to bear some fresh coaching ideas.
“He’s learned a lot from me, and I’ve learned a lot from him,” said Rea. “He’s a great leader and a great person, and he’s made me a better person.”
And in the years they coached side-by-side they grew close.
“We’re like brothers,” Rea said.
So, it was only natural that when Rea came to Palmyra to head up the varsity boys team that Southers would follow, and he did, serving as an assistant last season.
During the season, Southers got a glimpse of his new team, after Rea told him, ‘wait ‘til you see the girls team.’”
And, he did, becoming a big fan from the stands.
There only point of difference is their points of origin, Southers from Ohio, and Rea from Michigan.
That meant there was a lot of trash talk, and maybe something on the line, when the University of Michigan and Ohio State football teams renewed one of the most storied rivalries in sports this past weekend.
Rea ended up with bragging rights this year after the No. 3 ranked Badgers beat the No. 2 Buckeyes 45-23.