Milwaukee Juneau Pioneers basketball, freshman lead comeback

The kids are all right. Predominantly freshmen, the Juneau Pioneers are stacking up well against more experienced and much more physically developed opponents this high school basketball season.

"I feel like I'm definitely getting better, stronger," said Takis Tyler. "I'm playing against all grown men, so I think it's going to be good. We're all young, and we're playing at the varsity level."

"It feels pretty good playing against people older than you, stronger than you, and as for scoring on them, it feels pretty good," said Ladell White. 

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Built in 1932, Juneau was a gem of a high school before closing in 2006. It reopened in 2012 in its current configuration, and those on the inside say there's something special happening on the west side of Milwaukee.

The Pioneers still play in the Juneau gym, but the building actually houses the kindergarten through 12th-grade MacDowell Montessori School. Some students are as young as 3. 

"From a young age, they're around older kids," said Aaron Spiering, coach. "It allows the older kids to take a leadership role, so a lot of the kids in our building are exposed to leadership in a way other grade schools and middle schools aren't. I think that that pride and that ownership is a big driver of wanting to be great here." 

Torre Johnson, coach, knows what it's like to be great at Juneau. He was a standout before graduating in 2003, felt the pain of closure and is now helping lead his alma mater back.

"Like I tell people I'm blessed to be in this situation, be able to give back to the kids," said Johnson. "We've come far in these last couple years. Seeing the pride and the outlook of the fans here, the energy here is beautiful. It's really beautiful." 

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"You can see, especially with some older people, the eyes light up when they recognize that the name they thought had died and the tradition they thought was over is back," said Spiering.

One tradition that endures involves the school logo on the floor inside the main entrance. It's taboo to step on it.

"No, I never step on it," said Spiering. "Yeah, that's our good luck. If you stand in my building, the athletes will not step on the mosaic. You'll see me and Coach Torre will step over it. I can't tell you the kindergartners know the rule."

But as discovered, the best way for the younger kids to learn is through firsthand interactions with those who are older.