Francis Howell Central continues winning ways on and off the court

COTTLEVILLE — Gabbi Thomason and the Francis Howell Central girls basketball team have more than winning championships on their mind.

The Spartans are on a roll unlike any other team in the area but there is much more they intend to check off their to-do list this season.

Francis Howell Central remained the only undefeated girls basketball team in the area with a 61-50 win over Holt Friday at home. The Spartans ran their win streak to 16 games and in the process helped give back to the community.

The No. 1 large school in the rankings, the Spartans beat the Indians and celebrated a tradition that has been part of the program's fabric for the better part of a decade.

Gracie Stugart scored 16 points to lead the Spartans, who played in the eighth annual Coaches vs. Cancer Pink Out game. The event raised over $1,000. Francis Howell Central will donate all of the proceeds to the American Cancer Society in the name of Holt senior Sullivan 'Sully' Menne, who is battling Leukemia.

“Scott (Harris) and Hayley are fantastic people,” Holt coach Justin Wilmes said. “Scott reached out to us about the idea of doing this and we were on board. It says so much that they're a rival school. GAC South games are big rivalry games, we love playing each other. They're good games, but at the end of the day, this says so much more about our conference.”

Junior guard/forward Jaliyah Green scored a game-high 23 points for Holt (9-6), which led 15-14 at the end of the first quarter and clung to it for most of the second quarter.

Francis Howell Central took over for good with a 14-0 run to end the first half.

Stugart hit a bucket during the spurt and Thomason added a three as the Spartans took a 33-25 advantage at halftime.

Francis Howell Central helped extend the run to 17-0 with another trey with 7 minutes left in the third quarter and Makayla Best hit one from beyond the arc for a 45-37 edge heading to the fourth.

Holt never got within nine points the rest of the way as the Spartans improved to 4-0 against conference opponents.

Francis Howell Central also works with the Special Olympics and helped host a tournament last Saturday. The players volunteered their time to help make the event possible.

“We do things together as a team and we do it for the community,” Stugart said. “We know there are families out there with loved ones battling cancer and we want to do our part. It's not just about basketball, we've learned it's about working outside of the game to help the community and those around us.”

A 'Miracle Minute' raised $1,078.50 in the name of Menne. Additionally, funds from Pink Out T-shirt sales, a Pass-the-Bucket, Walls of Hope and Coin Wars will also be donated to the ACS in Menne's name.

Francis Howell Central athletics director Scott Harris said Leake has done a lot to build success into the program both on and off the court.

“Coach Leake has done a great job of creating a family atmosphere, program-wide, all the way down to the junior program,” Harris said. “It's much bigger than basketball. She values service to the community, developing character, and turning out successful young adults.”

The altruistic nature of the program has its benefits.

As part of the S-Hive, Leake and Harris have created a culture of inclusion around the girls basketball team as players get to invite members of their respective fan clubs and feeder teams in fourth through eighth grades to home games to cheer the Spartans on and get autographs.

Stugart, who's fan club is named the 'Stugart's Stars', enjoys having the younger fans in attendance. All of the feeder teams will be in attendance for a 'Program Day' Saturday.

“We all have four or five girls that come and support us each and every game,” Stugart said. “I think it's just a fun experience for them, and for us, too. It helps us bring them into our culture and to show them what Spartan basketball is all about. It also just feels great to get another chance to give back.”

Leake, who is in her sixth season at Central and helped the Spartans reach the state quarterfinal round in 2018, is proud to see her program be about more than just jump shots and tough defense.

“I would say this: I think any recognition we get for working with causes or building our youth program, I think is good attention,” Leake said. “Even if we wouldn't be (winning), we'd still be operating with the same mindset. We'd be building relationships and building something bigger than ourselves. We've been building things like this since Day one. Sure, it (winning) is great but these girls put so much hard work into it (basketball). It's amazing to see them, the administration here, everybody, really, putting in a lot of hard work to make this a better place and it's not just about basketball.”

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