DEVENS — Located in a small unincorporated village between the triad of Harvard, Ayer, and Shirley sits the Francis W. Parker Charter High School.
The school is home to a girls’ basketball team and coach with 200 total victories spanning the last 16 years. Athletic director, and girls’ basketball coach Ben Benoit has seen the Panthers grow from a fledging independently affiliated basketball program in 1996, to a perennial Division 3 Central Mass. District Tournament contender. The 200th win, came in a 40-38 defeat of Assabet at home on Dec. 21.
“When he told me that night that he had 200 wins, I couldn’t believe it,” said Ayer-Shirley head girls’ basketball coach Pete Page. “He has taken a very small school, and turned them into perennial winners. I don’t think he gets enough credit in the area because he doesn’t self-report. He continuously has a team that makes the districts.”
Francis W. Parker Charter High School’s girls’ basketball program was started from scratch, and the success they have enjoyed over their short lifespan is unprecedented.
Parker Charter School has made the Central Mass. Division 3 District tournament every year since the program began 15 years ago. Parker Charter and Quabog are the only two schools in Central Mass. Division 3 girls’ basketball, who have not missed the district tournament in the last ten years.
The usual concoction of hard work, dedication, and the willingness to make the sacrifice in order to become a better person and student-athlete are the building blocks the Benoit’s players utilize.
Over the years, Benoit has been known to bring his players together for team bonding exercises in the early morning hours. Practice at 6 a.m. is a not so distant memory of many alumni of the Parker Panthers’ girls’ basketball program.
“The one thing that he builds there is that they are a team and a family,” said Page. “There was a point when he used to run practices at six in the morning. After practices he invites players’ families for meetings. He really makes it a team and family event.”
14 former Lady Panthers came back last week for an alumni game, some of them 10 years removed from the program. “I am proud of the fact that we did an alumni game last week,” said Benoit. “It means a lot that players who have graduated eight, nine, ten years ago, still want to come back and have a connection to the program.”
It is safe to say that most high schools have their own gym to call home — Parker Charter is the exception. The Panthers have never had a gymnasium to call their own, instead they have been required to trek around to four different area courts for home games and practices. Not having their own gymnasium, according to Benoit has spurred a sense of resiliency in his players.
“We have always had to beg, borrow and steal gym space,” said Benoit. “We never have had our own gym. We have played home games on four different courts around Devens over the years.”
Before playing at Ayer-Shirley Middle School, the Panthers called the Job Corps. Center on Devens home. The now closed, Devens Fitness Center and Devens Sports Arena were all at one time, a den for Parker Panthers basketball.
The 2012-2013 Lady Panthers currently boast a 4-1 overall record, with their only blemish coming early in the season against Blackstone Valley. Parker Charter girls’ basketball is in good hands for the near future with Benoit, and 200 wins is just a mere notch in the belt, for what the Panthers’ program aspires to become.