BLANCHESTER — Brad Ballinger’s lesson plan was simple.
Ballinger’s goal was to teach his fourth-grade gym class how to make a right-handed layup.
One of his students had his own lesson plan in mind.
“Everybody else is working on right-handed layups, I’ve got Brayden Sipple shooting reverse left-handed layups,” Ballinger said.
“You could tell he was something special.”
Clinton County’s all-time leading scorer, who has chosen to continue his career at Cedarville University, was named to the Div. II All-Ohio second team boys basketball squad Tuesday after finishing just 15 points shy of 2,500 for his four-year career.
Barring any other players in the state joining him on the list this year, Sipple will finish his career as the 12th leading scorer in OHSAA boys basketball history.
It was fitting that it was Ballinger who had to work hard to give Sipple his final home game and a proper sendoff. After teaching him in fourth grade, and coaching him in middle school, Blanchester’s athletic director spent a month trying to reschedule the team’s final league game against Bethel-Tate.
Sipple finished his final home game with 43 points, leading his team to a 69-59 win against Bethel-Tate on March 2, securing back-to-back league championships.
Blanchester’s recent basketball success followed decades of struggles. There were some good teams sprinkled in, including those coached by Darrell Hollingsworth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but there was a half-century of futility after a championship in 1952.
“We struggled at basketball for a long time,” Ballinger said. “Ups and downs at a small school are going to happen, but we haven’t had this sustained success, and we’ve never had a player of that caliber.”
BHS won a National Division championship in 2012 under Mark Short, ending a 60-year title drought. The Wildcats won three straight Clinton County League titles from 1950 to 1952, including county league tournament championships in 1951 and 1952.
Adam Weber returned to BHS in 2013 as head coach. Blanchester won another league crown in 2016. Once Sipple joined him, the charge for league titles resumed.
What made Sipple stand apart from the competition?
“Character, his compassion, his determination, his quiet leadership, and then his outstanding ability to score, play defense, rebound,” Weber said. “He’s one of the best players in Ohio history. There’s no arguing that.”
Enjoying the journey
Part of the long journey over the four years wasn’t just the long practices and extra hours put in honing his craft.
With interest coming from several Division I schools, Sipple made the recruiting visits. Weber got to join his star guard on the journey.
It was an experience the Blanchester head coach won’t soon forget.
“We definitely have some connections and memories that people rarely get to experience,” Weber said. “To watch him and how he handled himself in such high profile situations is another testament to who he is. These colleges that we visited — those were late nights … long nights and long road trips with lack of sleep. He and I both never missed practice the next day. That’s part of that quiet leadership he displays. It’s just amazing.”
For Sipple, the four years spent with Weber provided him with guidance on and off the court that he needed to get through both the chase for records and titles and the recruiting process.
“Coach Weber, the last four years, he’s been like another dad to me,” Sipple said. “Inside of basketball, outside of basketball, he’s always been there for me. Coming in freshman year, he helped me grow. He believed in me and gave me a shot to play. Our relationship is just great.”
After both of them saw a talented senior class depart after the 2019-20 season, they knew the challenge that faced the returning team.
Yet, it was a chance for Sipple to reunite with teammates he had grown up playing with. It made the journey all that more special. The six seniors that made up the team — Bryce Highlander, Hunter Hartmann, Nolan Gray, Colton Wilson, Logan Heitzman and Sipple — united to bring BHS another championship.
“It’s been crazy. I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it,” Sipple said. “We’ve grown as a team and individually year after year. The guys from seventh grade when we started playing together, and now we’re back-to-back league champions. It’s awesome.
“Coming in this year from day one, we knew what we had to do. All the guys did a great job filling the shoes of the guys who graduated last year. That’s what led us to back-to-back league titles.”
Ballinger got to coach the now departing seniors in middle school. Six years later, they finish their careers as champions.
“I can’t say enough nice things about him and his teammates,” Ballinger said. “They were almost all JV kids last year except Brayden. They had to step into a new game, and they did. I’m proud of them. They’re good people, which is more important than being good basketball players. I love those guys. I’m really happy for them.”
A legacy left behind
In a year marred by a global pandemic, Weber believes what people will believe is the mark left by Sipple and his teammates on both the basketball program and the community.
“It’s going to be a moment in time that is going to stand still,” Weber said. “People are going to remember every play, every shot, every epic game. The crowds when we were allowed to bring people in and the enjoyment you saw people have.”
The success the Wildcats had will be one positive remembered in such an unprecedented year.
“In a world that changed dramatically for everyone, I feel like sports, and basketball specifically for us, is one thing that did bring some joy,” Weber said. “These kids fought through hard times. When we look back, it will be times that will be hard to forget.”
It will certainly be part of Weber’s career that he will carry with him.
“I have the best coaching job in the world,” Weber said. “The parents, the students, the players, we truly don’t have some of the issues that I hear some of my peers talk about. We just don’t. Sometimes people don’t believe me. I would like to thank everybody for that.
“Coaching consumes your life, and a lot of guys get out of it when it gets to be too much. These people have kept me hungry for more and they make it so much fun. It’s priceless.”
For Sipple, his name will always be associated with some of the best players who ever played in Ohio high school basketball history.
“To have my name at the top of the list with some of the best players to play the game, like people I’ve looked up to like LeBron James, Luke Kennard, guys like that,” Sipple said. “To have my name up there means a lot.”
It also means a lot to Sipple to give back to the next generation of Blanchester basketball players. He embraced being a role model to youth players in the community.
“One of my goals personally is to have an impact on the little kids especially as a role model,” Sipple said. “Like my role models impacted me like Luke Kennard, I want kids to be able to look up to me as not only a good basketball player but a good person to be around.”
While crowds filled every available space in the Blanchester High School gymnasium during Sipple’s junior year, the pandemic didn’t allow that during his senior year. Still, the feeling of electricity in the partially-filled gymnasium will not soon be forgotten by the fans who experienced it.
Sipple certainly won’t forget his time at Blanchester anytime soon. Tuesday’s all-state announcement put the final exclamation point on his memorable journey.
“Blanchester is not a very big town,” Sipple said. “All the sports, basketball especially, has brought the community together.
“There is not a thing I would change about it. I’ve enjoyed all of it.”
Matt Sexton covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @MattSextonPxP.