Annual camp features players turned instructors who were once attendees
BY NICK CLARK
The ball bounded upwards, sailing towards the basket with little resistance. That was, until the rim ricocheted it back into the basketball court inside the Champlin Park High School fieldhouse.
In that instant, elation was met.
The victory was a precious one, ending an all-in three-point shooting contest that capped a morning full of fun for the nearly 60 girls in grades 3-8 taking part in last weeks Champlin Park girls basketball youth camp.
For the better part of last week, the girls were drilled on the fundamentals of their game, working side-by-side with the both current and former players from the Rebels high school girls team, while head coach Doug Swenson watched curiously.
But then there were moments like this one, where the entire camp lined up to shoot three’s for the win. And there was plenty to be one.
After all, an ice cold Gatorade was at stake.
"We try to make it a little competitive," said Swenson, who oversaw the June 11-14 camp. "We have prizes to give away, and we try to do it through in a way that is both fun and competitive. And trust me, those girls want that Gatorade."
There were other things the participants were hoping to get out of the week as well, one of which was on display in the form of their instructors, who each came full circle with the camp.
Swenson had five former and once current player on hand to work the week, which paid nearly nothing in regards to money, but was still worth every second to the instructors.
All six had gone through the camp as youth basketball players, meeting and mingling with the then high school players, and forming a bond they’d try and reconnect with whenever the opportunity presented itself.
That much wasn’t lost on the girls leading the way, who said they easily can recall the rush of working side-by-side with the high school team.
"I was just looking through my stuff and I found a ball that I had autographed when I was here as a kid," said Rachel Leitz, who graduated from Champlin Park in 2010 and now plays college basketball at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
"I remember how cool it was just to see them and be on the court with them," Leitz continued. "I know for a fact these girls here this week think the same thing, so we try to make it as fun as we can, and we try to interact as much as we can, all while trying to help them get better."
That was, of course, the top priority for the campers. This was about having some fun, but the focus was on becoming better basketball players.
The camp was split into three groups by grades, and each unit had a specific agenda. At the third and fourth grade level, it was about introducing different skill sets through various games. The fifth and sixth graders used the time to work on, among many other things, shooting technique.
"At that age, they are transitioning from throwing a shot from the hip to actually being able to shoot the ball with form," said Swenson. "We spend a ton of time at that level on their shooting, moving to the shoulder with their shot."
The highest level consisted of the seventh and eighth-graders. Those girls played almost non-stop, with Swenson introducing them to some of the same offensive and defensive sets the girls can expect to see when they reach the high school level.
Naturally, it was an opportunity for the coach start and connect with the players that are just a few short years away from possibly playing on his team.
He said that was an important step, but only slightly.
"At some point we’ll cross paths, but for now, most could care less about me," he said. "This is about them getting a chance for them to hang out with the older girls. I get to know their names and a little bit about what type of player they are, but mainly, its about them interacting with the girls who have played for us. Our girls go and sit on their bench during tournaments, and we have a youth night during the season, so when they come back, they can say ‘that girl playing coached me this summer.’ I think that’s a pretty cool part of this."