Wahluke Eagles

This blog describes the joys of coaching an AAU basketball team from Mattawa, WA. Our team and town is roughly 90% Mexican. The blog celebrates and describes life in a central Washington town through the eyes of the players and their coaches.

Location: Mattawa, Washington, United States

I work as a School Psychologist in the Wahluke School District. When I am not coaching I enjoy fishing, reading, and riding my bike.

14 January, 2008

This is what we're about

The Wahluke Eagles played in a Yakima League tournament this weekend and lost all three games they played. They lost the first game by over fifty points. If the Eagles cared only for winning, then it was a unsuccessful venture. But to understand the Eagles, one needs to look closer.

Other teams in the tournament are all-star teams made up of the best players from around the area. Our first game was against the Yakima Rattlers, yet they had the tall kid from the Kodiak Boyz on their squad. Teams are formed for tournaments and then disband till the next one. At a young age, their players learn to concentrate on their own game stats at the expense of the whole. The Eagles are different.

Bethany was waiting in line for the restroom with a mother of a son on one of the all star teams. The Yakima area mom lamented how her son's team didn't play like one. Each one wanted to be the one to score the basket or block the shot. She went on to add that it made her frustrated because basketball is about team work. She compared the Eagles to her son's team and said that the way the Eagles played made it fun. Everyone moved together and got the ball to the open player. The Eagles work together.

A few vignettes drive the point home. A couple of times Oscar and Tony put together a series of passes that made the spectators sit up and take noticed. They orchestrated a symphony of half court bounce passes and quick chest passes when a defender got close, until one of them had the shot. One of the referees told them that he wanted to see more of the kind of play. Bethany commented on how the back court trio of Christopher, Dario, and Librado worked in tandem with hands up and chests out that denied the opponents easy weak side lay-ins. Bethany's pictures show Cristian with his hands up and Collin ready to receive the ball. One sees Jose worming his way to grab a rebound. They show a team.

Perhaps the picture above shows it best. One of the Eagles players had a fever the day of the tournament. He came, did his best, and gave his all for the team. In between games he rested and attempted to recoup his strength. Instead of laying somewhere on his own, he found the lap of teammate to rest. Notice how the other player has his arm across his friend's chest as he listens to music. These Eagles care about the game and they work hard and want to win. More important than that though is that care about each other.

That's what makes coaching the Eagles a wonderful experience. That's why you need to cheer for this team and support them. The Wahluke Eagles aren't a hastily concocted All Star team only worried about the bottom line. The Wahluke Eagles represent the best of youth sports because they are a group of young men who learning and displaying the values of hard work, friendship, and team work. As Juan told Oscar after the first loss, we're about more than just winning. The Eagles work on building the values that last.

These are you're Wahluke Eagles!

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15 December, 2007

Something Good is Gonna Happen

Above- The Eagles in a time out during the G-Town Game
The Wahluke Eagles are in their first week of intra-season vacation. However rather than let the cobwebs form and let their skills rust, the boys are using the time to practice and train. Aided by Collin's dad, the Eagles are retooling their skills and improving them.

For example, the Eagles are working on executing lay-ins with their hands ready to rebound and outlet the ball. They are concentrating on sharpening their outside shots and sending the ball off with good form. The Eagles players have good skills now it is the time to make them better.

However last Thursday we took a break from practice and took some time to celebrate. The boys took a seat in Juan's classroom and we asked the to listen. We began by recounting the beginnings of our team. We reminded them of when we first entered AAU as fourth graders and how we practiced in the elementary gym, with it's two hoops and concrete floors. We recounted how some players would slum against the gym wall in tears saying it was too hard and they wanted to quit. We recalled last year's record and our two 1-5 seasons. Lastly we congratulated the boys on our best finish in the top division (Preseason rank #3, Record 3-2, Finished 3rd).

We also did a little rough math. When we began in the Catholic Youth League, we had nine games. When we started AAU in fourth grade, we played 18 games (6 Fall, 6 Winter, and 6 Spring). We continued the same trend in fifth grade, and have finished 6 games this seasons. Our overall record, including preseason games, going back to CYO till present is 33-17 or winning percentage of 66%. For the coaches that means 50 Saturdays spent seeing some exciting games.

Since fourth grade, the Eagles have practiced year around. The boys and coaches figured that there have been about ten weeks a year that we didn't have practice so a rough estimate is that starting with October of 2005, the Eagles have practiced 168 times. As a rule of thumb, the practices were two hours long so we spent 336 hours in the gym. These numbers don't include time at tournaments or jamborees. Those numbers don't include the hour or two hour study halls in Juan's room. Those numbers don't include all the hours spent in the car, listening to music, laughing, telling stories, or just taking in the beautiful countryside. Those number fail to quantify what this team means to players and the coaches and the bond we share.

The Eagles are family to each other. The coaches and players look for each other and work for the common good. Spending that much time together does lead to the occasional clash of ideas or personalities but we always work through it and never let the bad times drag us down. And speaking for Juan, Bethany, and myself, we've enjoyed every bit of it. And as Bethany described so well, when you the team working so well together on the court, you know something good is gonna happen.


11 December, 2007

The Russian's Cut

Above- The Eagles leave a time out
The Wahluke Eagles closed their fall season with a loss against the Wapato Lil Cubs on Saturday. The final score was 28-41. Our opponents are a good team and when we've played them in the past, we froze up and reacted to their game. This game was different.

Our boys played well. Our shots didn't fall. We staked out an early 2-0 lead and the first half of the first quarter, it was a scoreless game. The Eagles went in there and hustled, cut, passed, shot, and well the ball didn't cooperate.

At times we pulled in close. Oscar drove the ball like a seasoned NASCAR driver and found the open lanes. He went up and shot. Again at times, it just didn't fall but he never quit. Jose boxed out and made the most of his minutes.

At one point the Eagles had Collin and Jesus playing up top at point guard. The opposing coach told his players, "See who they have in there, drive the ball." The Eagles saw who we put in, two boy who wanted to play and do their best.

Later that night at the High School game, the boys' elementary PE teacher asked how our game went today. The boys spoke about how hard they played and that they never gave up. They mentioned that they tried their best and of course had fun. The teacher asked what the score was and seemed a bit surprised when the boys mentioned that we lost.

In the Eagles' book this game was a victory. Our team went out there, played, and did their best. While the ball didn't fall our way, we never gave up. We walked away ready to play another day.

Click on the title to see the final league standings. Alan (5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal), Antonio (1 rebound, 2 steals), Christopher (1 rebound, 1 steal), Dario (2 points, 13 rebounds), Eduardo (2 points), Jesus (1 steal), Libardo (1 point, 4 rebounds), Oscar (16 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals)


05 December, 2007

Our Boys

Above- While on a team shopping trip, two players have some fun
Coaching the Eagles is an eye opener for someone raised in a suburb of Seattle. Our players are unique. Being true sons of the border their experiences aren't typically associated with modern American youth. Take the drive to last Saturday's game.

On the way towards the interstate, we passed several apple and cherry orchards. It was snowing and quite cold. As we drove by one boy started off saying that he thinks we just passed his uncle as there were cars parked at the head of the rows of trees. Then another player shared that he worked there too in the summer picking cherries.

He recounted how when his bucket wasn't quite full one of the sympathetic checkers still gave him a ticket indicating that it was complete. Other times, he swiped cherries from a bin and topped off his bucket. Then other boys began sharing their work stories as well.

They spoke about the heat, snakes, and spiders. They recalled how early they awoke (4:00AM), how hot it got around noon (90 +), and how they felt after a day of work (tired). Then they told about how much money the made and what they spent it on. Christopher shared how half of his check and those of his siblings went to pay off the new refrigerator their family purchased. "My mom said we all use it, so we all have to help pay for it." Other shared that they used their money to buy their school uniforms or like Chris to supplement the family budget. The boys were not complaining just talking about their summer jobs.

When I think about my level of generosity at the ages of 11 or 12, I wince when I look the example of my players. Juan, Bethany, and I are proud of our boys.


02 December, 2007

Another Monkey Falls

Three Eagles on defense, notice that their hands are up
Every organisation has its own stories and beliefs and the Wahluke Eagles are no exception. A year ago, one of our new players (Mr. Jiggles) mention that he hoped we had an overtime game, so we could play longer. To his astonishment, every veteran player and myself disagreed. We explained that the Wahluke Eagles hate overtime. The reason has a great deal to with the team we played on Saturday, our extra time nemesis the Kodiak Boyz. The Eagles and the Boyz have faced each other at least two times. Each time we played, we lost and both games went into overtime. Simply put, we hate extra time.

The boys played each other in Kittitas, which is a town that is pretty much equidistant between our respective homes. Kittitas is also close to Ellensburg, and that's where many of the Eagles teachers live. So for the first time we had fans in the stand besides Collin's parents. We were facing a team that beat us every time we played against fans, and the stage was set for familiar scenario of sluggish play and incriminating time-outs. But this year, the Eagles, like the phoenix have risen from the ashes.

From the opening tip-off to the closing whistle, the Eagles played team-ball. Every player on the court did his job and never gave-up. A few issues arose during the games and one player or two started to give-up or not follow the coaches directions, a willing and hard working replacement was quickly found on the bench.

One of these players, Jose deserves special mention. He went in several times and each minute he played he hustled. He used his speed and height to box-out, get rebounds, and even take the ball coast to coast for a lay-in. And when he lost the ball, he literally threw himself in the air trying to knock the ball back before it crossed the midway line while his body hit the floor hard.

Collin too did his part. It ought to be noted that he is a fourth grader playing a sixth grade squad. On defense, he kept his hands up. He used his speed and hustle to make a steal and snag an offensive rebound. Not bad for a nine-year old.

Antonio returned to the offensive game with a season high 12 points. One play of his though also deserves special attention. There was another loose ball and Tony made a break for it. He reached the ball and made two quick conclusions. First, he saw Oscar coming and secondly, he knew that he wouldn't be able to get ball and control it. So he lunged toward the ball and deftly slapped it toward Oscar who received it. Oscar, Tony, and Alan were also involved in several fast breaks and rapid passes that lead to points. And as the fourth quarter wound down, Antonio had several baskets that kept the game out of reach.

Big Man Dario made his mark with a season high twelve rebounds that included five offensive boards. He got the ball, kept his hands up, executed a pivot step, and an outlet past to one of the other players. Dario boxed out as well and his defensive hustle effectively neutralized the Kodiak's big man.

Librado made the most of his limited minutes as well. He started the game and did well but was removed when he twisted his ankle badly and had to be helped off the floor by Juan and myself. He sat on the bench with his shoe off, ice bag on his ankle, and giving us plaintive looks with his big green eyes asking to go back in the game. He went in sometime in the fourth quarter and made a crucial play. The Kodiaks were nipping at our heels and were just two or three points behind, when Librado worked his magic. I think it began with a Dario rebound, followed by passes to Alan, Oscar, Tony, and then to Librado. He took the ball to the left side of the hoop and laid the ball in just as a Kodiak knocked him out of bounds. The basket counted and he made his foul shot. We had a five point lead and never looked back.

Oscar too did his part. Early in the game when Librado was hurt and the coaches were tending to him, Oscar realized that the other team was getting pointers from their coach, so he called the boys in for an impromptu huddle. He moved the ball well too, getting the ball into Dario's hands.

When the game ended, the final score read 42-30, Eagles on top. The Eagles won because they played hard, hustled back, kept their hands up, and boxed out. Better put, the Eagles achieved victory because the played like a team. Both Oscar and Tony commented, it was a team win all the way.

Oscar (14 points, 3 steals), Dario (7 points, 12 rebounds), Librado (3 points), Alan (4 points, 7 rebounds), Tony 12 points, 1 rebound, 3 steals), Jose (2 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal), Collin (2 rebounds, 1 steal)


18 November, 2007

A few thoughts

Right- Three players watching a movie
Coaching the Eagles isn't a sure fire to make money. In fact it costs quite a bit and offers few financial benefits save a free meal and Burger King for two coaches, the third has to pay. If one looks beyond the material , then coaching is the best thing I do.

Bethany, Juan, and I get the chance to spend time with some fantastic young men who face challenges, dream big, and live in a world that doesn't appreciate their presence in our country. Most of our boys have papers, some of their parents don't, and each day that elephant in room stands there forgotten is the midst of the daily grind but never ignored. One newspaper article or rumour is all that's needed to cause tension and fear. The boys go to school and the parents work and through it all the elephant remains silent but real.

Coaching allows Bethany, Juan, and I the opportunity to get the know the boys outside of school. We see them at practices, drive them to games, share meals after games, and also interact with them in social settings. We've had team functions at the school, in Juan's house, and mine. And in those informal settings we see some special things.

The players demonstrate the care for one another by their generosity. If any player is short at Burger King, he rarely asks the coaches as his teammates supply what he needs. And if one player buys a desert, often times he shares it with one or two friends. After games, we'll stop to buy gas and sometimes the boys buys chips or snacks for the ride home. If a player doesn't have any money, he need not worry everyone in car shares what they have.

And being boys they express themselves by joking around. At times Jesus takes a bit of verbal jesting, just ask him about Mr. Jiggles and Squinty the Pirate. Before that it was Cristian and his soft spoken voice. Other times it's Alan and his alleged playing with his sister's toys.

Being boys too they show their colours by hitting each other, a lot. There is no bullying or singling anyone out, the coaches keep a close eye on that. It is just boys being boys by trying out the moves they see on WWE and doing tag team matches on the carpet. Or when the weather permits by playing tackle football and watching Jesus spring at Alan's neck like a terrier on speed. Everyone laughs and when one players wants to quit his friends respect his neutrality until he looses his noncombatant status by launching a surprise attack.

We enjoy our players' company. We share their dreams of making it big and support them all we can. And it pays rich dividends when you see them grow by sharing what they have, watching them support each other at school, see them take responsibility for their studies, and through it all watch the boy learning how to be a man.


17 November, 2007

Librado's Turn

Two Eagles watch the previous game
The Wahluke Eagles (1-1) faced off against the Toppenish Wildcats (1-2) Saturday in a divisional battle. The Eagles started strong and by the end of the first qiuarter it was 14-2 but Toppenish wasn't rolling over. However the Eagles were playing better defensive basketball and this helped their cause.

Last Tuesday marked the debut of Collin's dad Jeff as a guest coach. Jeff coached High School and college ball and knows more than Bethany, Juan, or I. We welcomed his assistance. His first order was to remind the boys to keep their hands up on defense. For two practices, we worked on this skill and on improving our boxing out. Both helped us win.

The increased wing span increased our rebounds as did the boxing out. Our improved defense lead to some fouls by Toppenish and before the first half ended, we were shooting 1 and 1. At the end of the half we had the lead but Toppenish wasn't done.

At one point in the third quarter, we had a ten point lead and looked in control. A few bad shots, turn-overs, and miscues from the bench combined with a Wildcat hot streak lead to them closing the gap. The game got physical as well as both teams were shooting 1 and 1. The fouls weren't harsh or intentional, just two teams fighting for the ball. Then things turned south for Toppenish.

One of their players was blown for a technical foul, which gave us two points and the ball, plus he was removed from the game. As the fourth quarter went on, Toppenish and Wahluke kept playing, we held the lead and they kept pursuing it. Late in the fourth two more Toppenish players fouled out. Still they pulled within three.

Holding onto a five point lead, Tony was fouled when Toppenish did a reach. He walked to the line and missed his first, but thankfully made the second. Toppenish called time-out, got the ball and made a three pointer and we got the ball. Librado was fouled and made one of his two shots. We went back to defense and the game came to a close Wahluke 46-Toppenish 42.

It was team win. Every player did his part. However it was Librado's break-out game. He played the majority of the time as a starter, a substitute, and then the majority of the fourth quarter as well. He is learning how to handle the ball, the pressure, and see the open man. But Librado always has smile on his face, comes to practice ready to work, and is always in a good mood. I think one day he has a future as a game show host or a weatherman for local tv.

Collin did his part as well. Using all his fourth grade frame, he kept his hands up on defense and ran the court. When the game started, he hustle lack a little luster but improved after half-time. Jose too did his part. He made two points and had a couple shots that didn't fall his way.

The Eagles did their job and again it was a team win.

Oscar (21 points), Dario (7 points), Librado (1 point), Alan (8 points), Tony (7 points), and Jose (2 points)