You talk to almost any parent and they can give you a detailed account of why youth sports are influential for the kids. You talk with a high school coach and not only are youth sports important for the players, they are quite important for that coach.
It was through these means that the Hermiston Basketball Club morphed into its current format, creating a minor-league type system along with the usual learn-the-basics, team-building experiences that most kids’ athletics offer.
Because when kids play competitively at an earlier age, they start to develop into real ball players before they hit the high school ranks.
“That’s the goal at least, it really is,” said Larry Usher, Hermiston High’s former boys’ basketball coach and one of the locals responsible for youth basketball’s explosion in Hermiston. “You talk to any high school head coach when classes of players come through, you need a solid class at every grade. You need solid classes one after another to be very competitive.”
“Now kids can participate in basketball year- round, you know, if they want to,” said Usher, in his first year removed from the sidelines at the high school.
The effects of the HBC appear in any gym in the town’s many primary schools. Since that first year, when a handful of teams signed up for AAU, the number has swelled to 15 and the number of city, recreational league teams has rocketed up to 20 as well. That’s close to 400 young dribblers playing the game, said Tracy Gammell, Hermiston Basketball Club’s registrar.
The numbers have consistently grown for the most part each year, but the rec league jumped with enrollment this season, adding about 60 bodies. Some influx is attributed to Hermiston’s population boom of recent years, but recruitment and basketball fever have weighed into the change also.
The growth doesn’t come without its problems, though, as willing players have been known to outnumber available coaches. Usher and others have had to recruit volunteer parents on occasion, but there are worse scenarios to be in, he said.
Usher’s plan will be coming full-circle soon. The classes rising through Hermiston High right now are some of the firsts that had AAU programs easily available throughout their basketball careers. A talented group of underclassmen provide the backbone to the Bulldogs’ varsity squad right now, a group without much senior influence. Whether that fact could have been remedied had organized AAU teams been available in Hermiston eight or 10 years ago instead of six is impossible to determine.
But it’s hard to ignore the type of play that’s come out of the sophomore and junior classes for Hermiston this season, even as the team has struggled to a 3-12 record.
A.J. Mazzolini is a sports reporter for the East Oregonian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.