If you plan a game, the kids will come

I might have avoided a fair amount of angst the past month if I'd done just one thing: remembered what it's like to be a kid.

It was with a chuckle I realized this after the high school players in the third annual Mail Tribune All-Star Basketball Classic gathered for their lone practice session Thursday night at Kids Unlimited.

A lot goes into organizing tonight's event. Most important, of course, is selecting, contacting and bringing together 40 teenagers from Cave Junction to Prospect, Ashland to Merlin, to play hoops on the first weekend of spring break.

We hype the event with stories and house ads, set up online voting and work with other media outlets for coverage.

Then we wait on the principals, the stars of the show, the kids, to come through.

Anxiety turned to relief the moment I entered the gym Thursday. Boys and girls covered the two courts, and they were 20 minutes early. By the time the 7 p.m. start time rolled around, 37 of the 39 players were there. One player was late because of baseball practice in Prospect — he had given advance notice, by the way — and another couldn't make it because of work.

Otherwise, there they were, rarin' to go.

While driving home a couple hours later, I thought back to my childhood.

I'd rush home from school to play basketball in the driveway until Mom called for dinner. When the wooden posts that held the backboard rotted over the years and had to come down, my brother and I took the rim, rigged it to a not-so-high beam in the garage and turned into Phi Slamma Fam well before Phi Slamma Jamma.

In the spring, I'd spend hours fielding a tennis ball off the garage door or side of the house, or hitting a makeshift, belt-high fastball hanging from a string in the garage or, on rainy days, soft-tossing a baseball into the sofa back. That practice ended for good when a pitch sailed on me, over the couch and through our picture window.

In the fall, it was catching a football after it bounded unpredictably off the roof, as if taking in a wobbly kick. Or seeing how tight of a spiral I could throw up and catch. Or punting high and running under it.

This is why I had to laugh at myself for being a worrywart. It's a different generation, but still, kids like to play. If you put on a game, they will come.

At practice, it didn't take any time for the kids to blend together, share balls and baskets, take turns shooting and rebounding for one another. Fifteen Southern Oregon schools were represented, and rivalries of the just-completed prep season were shelved.

The players separated into their Rogue and Siskiyou teams and ran a few drills. In short order, the boys layup regimen turned into an impromptu dunk contest.

Coaches Lynn Kennedy of Southern Oregon University, Scott Meredith of Oregon Institute of Technology and Kyle Heath of College of the Siskiyous then worked with their players a bit before scrimmaging commenced.

They ran and passed and shot. They tried half-court alley-oops, no-look passes, drives and layups with more twists and body control than a contortionist would dream up.

There were a couple indications of how much fun was being had.

One, Allison Gida of Ashland, who would be the star of stars if she were able to play, crashed the practice session. She participated in the two previous all-star games and would do so again if vacation plans didn't interfere. Nevertheless, there she was, sneaking into the five-on-five scrimmage on the girls side, clearly enjoying one last go-round with her peers.

Two, the boys and girls played for a half, took a break, then scrimmaged for another half. Manny Crump, director of basketball for Kids Unlimited, came over and said the kids wanted to keep playing. I shrugged. We only had a starting time, not a finishing time. While waiting parents fidgeted to get comfortable again, the kids played on.

My parents would have done the same years ago.

Only when the buzzer sounded a final time did the kids disperse.


Crater's girls — Leona Steel, Jen Noon and Lexie Kappel — took up a three-on-three game against their Comet boy counterparts, Josh Dalton and Thomas Reed, and South Medford's Josh Havird.

The girls didn't back down. If fact, I think they won the short-lived contest.

Only when their ball was taken away did they head for the exit.

But, we'll roll it out again tonight and, as kids are wont to do, they'll be back and rarin' to go.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

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