“How great do you truly want to be?”
That’s what Brooks Cupps, the then-new head boys basketball coach at Centerville High School in Centerville, Ohio, asked Joey Weingartner, one of his players, in the summer before his sophomore year in 2012.
Weingartner had a goal to play college basketball, something Cupps did from 1995-99 at Capital University, a Division-III school in Bexley, Ohio. He thought he was doing all that was necessary to play at the next level, but Cupps knew otherwise.
While growing up, Cupps would go to the gym with his father early in the morning and work out, his dad there to guide and rebound for his son. As he began his coaching career, he brought the concept with him and would open the gym to players before dawn.
It hadn’t taken hold at Centerville, at least not until Weingartner bought in.
When Cupps asked that question of Weingartner, he told him he wanted to be “really great.” So, the coach said to meet him in the gym at 6 a.m. the following morning.
“He said it might seem crazy, but sometimes crazy is needed to accomplish your goals, accomplish greatness,” Weingartner recalled.
He showed up, albeit a bit begrudgingly, and went through a workout before school. Cupps told him to keep coming back, so he did. It wasn’t always every day to start. Weingartner would skip mornings, sometimes waking up just to fall back asleep or lack the discipline to get himself going. But eventually, he established the habit and was in the gym every day before school and Saturday mornings before the team’s practice.
For much of the 2012-13 school year, Weingartner was there alone. Cupps would unlock the gym and leave his player with a workout routine, and Weingartner would follow along alone.
He began telling his teammates about his routine, and slowly, he convinced individuals to come train with him. As his teammates saw his progress and understood what it was doing for Weingartner, more and more of the program started showing up.
“My junior and senior years, if you didn’t get there early enough, you didn’t get a basket to shoot on,” Weingartner said. “You just had to do ball handling all morning.”
And thus, Centerville’s Breakfast Club was born.
The hard work paid off, and Weingartner went on to play at Capital, ending his four-year career with the conclusion of this season. He scored more than 1,000 points in his career and was a contributor every season on campus.
Now four years after Weingartner’s graduation from Centerville, the Breakfast Club is still running and stronger than ever. Roughly 15 to 25 players are in the gym each morning during the season from 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m., then quick showers and off to class before the 7:50 a.m. bell.
Participation in the Breakfast Club is not mandatory, but it’s not a secret nor surprise that the players who come consistently preform the best in the program. There are guidelines set for how often it’s recommended a player attend depending upon what team he would like to make, but there aren’t direct penalties for missing. Multi-sport athletes are respected, and it’s understood that there will be times when extraneous circumstances arise.
But the statement is simple: the early bird gets the worm.
Senior point guard Ryan Marchal has attended every Breakfast Club since his sophomore year. He will attend and play for Thomas More, a Division-I NAIA program, next year in college. He couldn’t have done it without the Breakfast Club, he said.
“Breakfast Club lifted my game up from the bottom to the very top where I am now,” Marchal explained. “Without that, I probably wouldn’t be playing varsity at the moment.”
Cupps said the Breakfast Club has made a significant difference in his program. Only the most dedicated and disciplined players rise to the top, the skills training in the morning means team practices can be spent on strategy and team development, and it brings an added level of self-belief, he explained.
“I feel like our kids are confident they have worked as hard, if not harder, than whoever we’re playing no matter who we’re playing,” Cupps said. “I don’t feel like our kids go into games feeling that lack of confidence that maybe they’re not as ready as the other team. Our kids feel like, right or wrong, they’re worked extremely hard to put themselves in the best position they could put themselves in to go be successful. I think that confidence comes a lot from our Breakfast Club.”
There’s more to it than basketball, though. When Weingartner was first changing his routine, he didn’t understand that, but he caught on as he continued to push through.
“I’d almost wake up some mornings mad, like, ‘Why in the world do I have to wake up this early?’” he remembered. “It just doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t click at first. But it’s not just the fact you’re working out. You can work out basketball any time you want. But the mental toughness it takes to wake up every morning and grind, and you start your day that way, I found that the rest of my days started being better. I started to find that my life changed a little bit. Certain things I might have complained about before didn’t feel like a big deal at that point.”
Weingartner is still around the Centerville program often, showing up at practices and building relationships with the current players. Sometimes, Cupps will introduce him as “the guy you have to thank for waking up before school every morning,” and he can feel the disdain coming from some of the underclassmen who long for a mattress and warm blanket.
But Weingartner has been there. He was that same annoyed kid who didn’t understand why he was driving to school before the crack of dawn to dribble a basketball, let alone every day. Now, after doing it for so long, he has the perspective, and knowing it’s passing down to classes of Centerville basketball players is special to him.
“I would consider it probably one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life because it leaves an impact,” he explained. “Seven years ago, I was by myself, frustrated, and to see all this time later that these kids are doing the same thing, probably feeling the same things I was feeling. But the fact that it’s going to benefit them all so much, and I know that now, being so many years later, it’s inspiring and motivating even for me today.”
Photo provided by Joey Weingartner.