Some teams may hold car washes or make the rounds going door-to-door selling magazines, but the Redmond High School’s annual fund-raiser to help fund its travel-intensive basketball seasons goes back to their love of the game.
Last week, hundreds of campers from grades three to nine met at the Redmond High gym for the boys’ and girls’ basketball camps, hosted by the high school head coaches as well as numerous varsity players and alumni.
The boys’ camp was run in the mornings by Jeff Larson, who will be entering his fifth year as head coach and ninth overall for the Mustangs, and at the helm of the afternoon girls’ camp was Dennis Edwards, who has been the head coach at Redmond the last three years.
The comprehensive four-day camp taught kids the fundamentals of basketball, introduced drills that they could practice at home to improve their play and involved competitive simulated games between teams of campers.
“We try to make it a combination of fun with some skill contests and some five-on-five and fast-break type drills, but also basic fundamental drills,” Larson said. “Everything from from ball handling, passing and catching, shooting. We have a defensive station that we really enjoy, because we want to teach at a young age that Redmond basketball starts with defense.”
In addition to being the main method by which the boys’ team will be able to attend a winter tournament in San Diego, the camp is a vital way for the players to cultivate strength in its program by getting local kids interested in the game, knowing that one day they will be attending Redmond High School.
“Most of our kids (end up playing for Redmond). I’ve seen kids that have been here five years in a row,” said Larson, 38. “It’s a lot of fun, we’re fortunate to have the families that are involved and able to let their kids attend and we watch them come right up through the system.”
While Larson runs the show, the core of the camps are the varsity players, who are in charge of coaching a group of young campers and teaching them the tools they need to succeed in the sport. Although the coaching positions are technically volunteer, the players know that the success of the camps literally translates into their airplane tickets and lodging at national team events. Most, however, if not all of the athletes, truly enjoy teaching the game to others and find it helps themselves improve as athletes and individuals.
“It helps me be a little more patient, working with the kids, and it also helps me get more active and involved in (basketball),” said Willie Gonia, a senior power forward for Redmond. “I just like having fun with the kids… and it’s a great fund-raiser for our team.”
Some players have even come full-circle, now returning to coach as a varsity team member after attending the same camp years ago.
“I did this camp when I was a kid,” said senior Phil Leland, who plays forward. “When you play at the varsity level, the game gets really intense, so coming back here brings you back to when it was just fun and you were running around.”
He also believes that experience as a coach is an invaluable one when it comes to being a well-rounded player.
“It’s totally different than being able to play and use it out on the floor,” he said. “When you’re coaching, you’re learning both sides … the total aspect of the game.”
Players from the Redmond boys team are playing in offseason leagues to stay sharp and will be traveling to Gonzaga University in Spokane for a summer basketball camp.
The 2008-09 Mustang boys’ squad looks to rebound from a tough 10-12 season last year, but with several seniors ready to step into the leadership role, experience will be on their side.
“We just have a group of guys whose chemistry is very strong, the commitment is very strong, and they have a desire to go compete,” said coach Larson of his outlook for next season. “We’re just gonna play as hard as we can and see what happens … we’re a very experienced team.”
Running a camp of this size is quite an undertaking, and Larson wanted to personally thank one volunteer in particular for her administrative assistance.
“I want to give a big thank you to (boys’ camp chair) Bonnie Ellis for the work, time and organization she’s put in,” Larson said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without her.”
Like Larson, who formerly coached junior varsity, girls’ head coach Dennis Edwards has risen his way through the ranks. He served four years as the assistant coach and was involved with the program for more than 10 years before getting the call to lead the team. Edwards truly delights in hosting these camps and getting girls introduced to the game.
“The kids. They got smiles on their faces, they’re having fun,” said Edwards of what he enjoys most about the camps. “My goal is for every camper to have a good, positive experience … and we seem to be pretty successful.”
The girls’ camp has an excellent coach to participant ratio of 3 to 1, which gives each camper the individual attention they need to improve their basketball skills. At times, though, the talent difference can be overwhelming even within the same age group, but Edwards credited his “camp counselors,” which included varsity and JV players as well as star alumni Ashley Graham and Jamie Edwards, for taking the extra effort to help younger, inexperienced kids and equalize the level of play within the groups.
“I just enjoy being able to get to know (the kids) and helping them work on their skills,” said senior point guard Alicia Valentine, a 4A Kingco Honorable Mention last season. “I’ve been coming to the camp since I was a little girl. You look up to the older girls. They were a big part of my basketball career growing up because I aspired to be like them.”
Like the boys’ team, the girls’ team will also be traveling to warmer climes this winter to compete, which simply would not be possible without proceeds from the summer camp.
“This next winter we’re taking the high school team to Orlando, Florida for a tournament, and last year we went to Alaska,” Edwards said. “The budget for something like that is very expensive. All these girls understand that. The proceeds for this camp go towards that trip, so they work hard on it.”
Tim Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (425) 867-0353, ext. 5054.