The little school that could

Fans and players cheer as the Charter School girls win the championship. — Ralph Stewart

Morning meeting at the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School was particularly charged on Tuesday. Led by the students, the nearly 180 kids, faculty, and parents crowded in and hugged and cheered. The normal celebrations of the school’s successes and accomplished goals had a definite buzz.

“This year, I want the school to win a basketball game,” teacher Sarah Smith said, reading from a goal written by a former student, and with that the little school erupted.

Some things take time.

On Monday night, the Charter Chargers won their first championship game. It was a historic and electrifying win at the high school gymnasium. It wraps up the girls’ third year in the all-Island program. And the Charter will forever be known as the little school that could — basketball champions 2018.

Timothy Penicaud has been the Charter School athletic director since January 2001. I sat down with coaches Timothy and Michael Baldwin on Tuesday morning to talk about the win. One of the coaching motivations Tim uses is the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you think you can, you can; doubt is the killer of creativity,” he said. “The kids understood that, they played that way. In the beginning we focused on forming the team, storming learning positions and roles; norming is where they realize their role and start to come together as a team.”

Michael Baldwin came in this year as a volunteer coach, and saw how the family dynamic works at the Charter. He saw the consistent support, and he believes the coaches brought a lot of energy to the teams.

Asil Cash has been dedicated to the position of volunteer coach for about a decade. He coaches without any children in the program, but purely for the love of the game.

All three coaches coach girls and boys, JV and varsity, and they really support one another.

“All coaches generated something into the game, but all of us held up the girls’ passion. We believe in the whole child, holistically, and focused on how we use our energy. And like the little engine that could, the team became a well-oiled machine,” Michael said.

Watching the team progress over the season as a parent was exhilarating — seeing their confidence gaining strength, and how it was buoyed by the energy of the supporters at every game.

But, let’s be honest, for a little engine that could, they had no gym.

Coach Tim explained there was a bigger community effort at play. “We are a small Island, and these kids will probably all play together in a few years. We’d like to thank Edgartown and Tisbury schools for the use of their gyms and for supporting all of our Island kids. We had to practice weekends; we dedicated every day to school and practice. Seven days.”

Michael noted that the Charter community lit the lamp for the kids: “It is evident in the morning meetings, we celebrate the kids’ success every single day. The kids are happy to be here, it transcends to everything they do, and we highlighted that spirit in our coaching.”

As we were talking, texts were coming in from other schools congratulating Tim on the teams’ success and the strength in their support.

“Teamwork starts with trust, letting the kids lead, team leader Maria Andrade took over and helped her teammates. In the end, we were only guides, they owned it,” Tim said.

Imagine what a gym would provide for these kids. Tim is realistic. “The Charter has just finished stage one of stage three in heating and maintenance; that work needs to be completed before the dream of a gym comes to fruition.”

But to come back to the Chargers chant this year, “Together,” the community believes that together we will persevere with the goal of a gym.


Lara O’Brien is a frequent contributor to The Times, lives in Tisbury, and is the proud parent of a Charter Charger.