Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 4:23 PM on Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Young hoops players develop skills in Community Rec play

Pick-up games for adults now under way

By Angelina Skowronski
For the Homer News

Bruins basketball is winding down to its last few games, ending a solid season with the highest enrollment rates since its start five years ago. Forty-six elementary school-aged kids signed up for the community rec youth basketball program in January led by head coaches Chris Etzwiler and Merlin Cordes.

"I noticed a need for youth basketball when my kid was in kindergarten. Merlin and I were asked by the PTA at Paul Banks to coach basketball," said Etzwiler. "We had them for 12 days and really saw improvements. It was there that we decided to start a more long-term program."

Through Mike Illg at the city's community recreation office, the basketball gurus were able to create a proven program.

"Chris was the one with the idea. I come up with the Xs and Os," said Cordes.

Bruins basketball is open to all area children grades 3-6. Groups are divided by skill level rather than age or grade and all groups play co-ed. Players from as far as Seldovia and Nikolaevsk have been known to make the trek to Homer to participate in the growing program.

"We are teaching the fundamentals of basketball to young kids at a level they can comprehend. When developing a program for elementary kids, you have to break down to minute details and that is what we do," said Cordes.

Getting the kids associated with the vocabulary and fundamentals early is the key to creating strong players for the future. Since the program's inception, the Bruins have become the main feeder for middle school basketball. A success story is last season's middle school girls basketball team, all Bruins graduates, who took home the title at Boroughs.

"We often get the older junior high kids to come in and be the leaders. We want them to be thinkers out there on the court. We don't want to develop robots," said Etzwiler. "Our goal is to have the ball in their hands for the entire practice. They learn faster that way."

Etzwiler and Cordes with the help of other volunteer coaches such as Wendy Todd, Michelle Harris and Connie Akers, organize three groups with practices three times a week for each group. In addition to the elementary school program, a junior high program was offered this year for the players who wanted to play in the tournament in Palmer this May. With court time limited, these dedicated pre-teen Bruins practice before school from 6:30 to 8 a.m. three days a week.

"The dedication is there with these kids and it is so rewarding to watch them excel as they have," said Etzwiler.

The Bruins, representing black and green — a nod to Etzwiler and Cordes' favorite NBA team, the Celtics — have been on the road for most of April playing games against Ninilchik and Nikolaevsk. Their next home game is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Boys and Girls Club against Nikolaevsk.

Fans can cheer on the black and green in their final game of the season at 6:30 p.m. May 4 at the Boys and Girl Club. The team faces Ninilchik.

Summer basketball also will start soon. More information can be found at Community Recreation or by calling Chris Etzwiler at 235-1560.

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For older players, adult pick-up basketball started Tuesday at the Homer High School gym. Pick-up basketball is open to high school age and older and will run through the summer every Tuesday and Thursday from 8-9:30 p.m.

There is a fee of $3 in the form of a punch card which can be purchased at the community rec office at the high school during regular business hours.