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.

25 February, 2006


Last week after Monday's practice, Eduardo announced that I had to take him home because his parents wanted to talk to me. So we dropped off the other players and headed to his house. On the way I kept badgering Eduardo asking him what his parents wanted. He feigned ignorance till he broke down and said that he was making his First Holy Communion and his parents wanted me to me to be his Godfather.

I said nothing. When we arrived, I waited for his parents. Eduardo told them that he asked me in the car and that I hadn't answered. I looked at his Dad and responded yes with a smile.

I have known Eduardo since he was in kindergarten and I was teaching his cousins. This year, Mr. Martinez and I have watched an energetic fourth grader start to become a skilled player. And more importantly I see a young man taking an important step in a faith that stretched back two thousand years and enter into a mystery that I reverence.

Like Mike

Arrived at the gym ready to play. All the boys showed up and geared to battle our rivals from last year, the Mabton Vikings. Like us, Mabton moved up to the higher divisions, like us Mabton struggled, lost games, and probably like us, they questioned themselves wondering if they really had the skills to run with the big boys.

We had the boys arrive 90 minutes prior to tip off so they could shoot and get loose. Our last team practice on Wednesday ended on a sour note. Antonio did a vicious foul on Oscar and what made it worse is that these boys are good friends. Eduardo was mad and he mentally checked out of the scrimmage. Christopher became frustrated and was just throwing up crazy shots. Mr. Martinez and I were sitting on the bleachers shaking our head and saying things didn't look good. Here we are fighting to stay alive and civil war is erupting and the ranks are in disunion.

But this morning, the before the games, things looked good, The boys were laughing, making shots, and ready to roll. About half an hour before the game, we called them into Mr. Martinez's room for a pregame talk. We reminded them that we needed a win. We reminded them that Mabton was coming to fight. We reminded them that they had the skills to compete and that they needed to make a statement that they belong. As the boys stretched out, Mr. Martinez played the song Basketball by Lil Bow Wow. And as the boys prepared eleven voices sang along. Then we hit the gym ready to play.

Then we waited and waited and Mabton never showed. No call explaining why, nothing. Just my eleven boys ready and waiting. About twenty minutes after the original time, we divided the boys into two team, and they had a scrimmage.

Oscar and Antonio did not disappoint. They pulled off a give and go complete with a behind the back pass, Jesus made a three-pointer as did Tony, Christopher played exceptional defense, Caedyn put up a few good shots that just didn't fall, and Eduardo showed promise as a point guard.

Next week we head to Wapato ready to play and make a statement that we belong.

19 February, 2006

We're back

We're back on the sunny side of life with a convincing 30-20 win over the Burbank Dunkers on Saturday. When the game began, things looked grim. The Eagles became mired in foul trouble and in the first quarter, we already exceeded the limit on team fouls and our opponents were shooting 1&1 free throws. Luckily for us, they missed them.

Oscar was nervous and almost breaking down in tears and the rest of the team was close to a major malfunction. We called a timeout, and reminded the boys that all the baskets made, the steals, screens, and passing done in practice means nothing. They have the skills then but now is the time they need to show them.

Slowly things began to turn around. Jesus and Oscar got us going with some shots, passes, and steals. Christopher played solid defense. He popped out and didn't let the opponents get settled for an open 3. And Antonio, one of our strongest shooters and defenders finally showed up. His corporeal self had been at our last 3 losses, but his shooting, moves, and overall solid play hadn't. Mr. Martinez and I called over and told him to go in at forward.
Tony- I can't my knee hurts.
Me- I don't care get in there.
Tony (voice rising)- I can't my knee hurts!
Me (voice rising as well)- I don't care get in there.
Tony- I can't ...
He enters, shakes and bakes the offense, make a basket, gets a steal, passes the ball to Oscar and generally provides a spark.

Jesus, our foreword, Point Guard, and Center also began the game with difficulty. Midway through the second quarter, he accumulated 3 fouls, (all of them reaches), and we took him out and put in Alan. He sat there and watched the other team score. Mr. Martinez told him that we needed him, we needed his skills and strength, but that we couldn't put him in if he keeps reaching. Instead of glaring at us, he put his head in his hands, closed his eyes, and got himself back in his game.

When the third quarter began, it was Oscar and Jesus and Point Guard, Tony and Christopher at foreword, and Alan at Center. And then it all came together. Mr. Martinez and I saw in a game, what we saw in practice. The boys moved the ball, made passes, congratulated and encouraged each other. They played as team and it was good.

At the last moments of the game we put Caedyn in at forward. Oscar gave him two good passes but he missed the shot. His last attempt looked good but just rolled off the rim. That was my only disappointment of the game.

Later Oscar was talking about the game and he mentioned how he was nervous when it began. I reminded him, there is nothing wrong with feeling nervous. Feeling come, but when they do, its important to not let them overwhelm you.

Next week is Mabton, our rivals, who we beat with a basket last December with 20 seconds left in the game. This time they're coming to our court looking for revenge. After tasting victory that was won with team work, my boys are ready.

They played as a team and it was good.

14 February, 2006

Leaner and Meaner

Mr. Martinez and I talked about extending the team for one more season. I guess the pain of loosing is getting to us as well and we don't want to surrender the ship without a fight. However changes will be made. We'll cut the team down to 7 players, taking a mixture of good players and hard workers. The kids who show up to practice will get priority. Then armed with 7 players, Juan and I hope to conquer anew.

It will take some doing as this last season will cut into baseball. I think Antonio and I will be busy and tired.

12 February, 2006

Tough Times Continue

The Wahluke Eagles are staggering a bit after a third consecutive loss to the Cle Elem Kodiak Boyz. The frustration grows since we had the opponent on the ropes and again led most of the game. A couple of questionable three-point shots by Cle Elem, an ill time turn-over by us, and a lucky shot sent the game into overtime. We tried our best but came up short in the two minute period. Final score Wahluke 25-Cle Elem 26.

Again the boys took it hard. The reality of running with the big boys is wearing them down. After the game, several of them asked whether or not our team would drop in the standings. I replied in the affirmative and immediately reminded them that win or lose, they were getting better and developing skills that will take them places.

Gabino, one of our starting point-guards missed the game because his family had to go to Sunnyside. Coincidentally, Antonio and Eduardo's family went there as well. Instead of missing the game however, both boys showed up on my doorstep at 10 AM. Antonio thought to call ahead. They watched television as I ate breakfast and got ready.

Missing Gabino, we put Freddy in as starting point-guard. He did well moving the ball around and getting steals. But the hero of the game was Christopher (nicknames Alien, Ghost Boy, and Pretty Ricky). Chris played most of the game as foreword, he only sat five minutes to rest and give some other boys playing time. He went back on defense to stop there fast break, and like a phantom (thus the name Ghost Boy), he camped out at the edge of the key waiting for a pass and then a quick shot. He scored 2 points but had many good shots that just rolled out. Best of all, he hung in there and didn't let the pressure get him down.

Last year, Christopher frequently got upset during practices and used to sit on the sidelines and pout. This year he has become a team leader and is truly a self-less player. He encourages his peers and when I need a volunteer to take another boy's place in drill, he responds.

Caedyn gave us a solid five minutes of play as well. Using his abundant energy, he came in for Christopher and played aggressive defense. He took part in one steal and had a couple of good shots that just rolled out of the rim.

Eduardo, (nicknamed Laffy Taffy), who took over for point guard also played well. He made six points and stuck close to Oscar as to nullify the trap. His predilection for shooting materialized a couple of times but at least when he shot he was inside the arc.

After the game, we invaded Burger King for some fun. Last year one of the boys classmates asked the players if I would stop for food even if we lost a game. The boys responded in unison, "Of course we would, Mister only wants us to play our best." Now I realize that after tough losses, theses stops are probably more important in terms of the team's morale.

Mr. Martinez and I watched as the boys placed their orders. Luckily one of the cashiers spoke Spanish, which alleviated Cristian's anxiety considerably. One plus of the long season is that now all the boys can place their order and negotiate waiting for it without our help. When the food arrived, the cashier called out the number (195). The other boys then relayed the number back to their peers mostly in English, except for Cristian.

After eating and joking around, our four car caravan loaded up and headed back into the desert toward home. Tomorrow we'll have practice, break down the game, learn from our mistakes, and sharpen our skills. Just wait till next year when the Eagles, like their mythical cousin, will arise from the ashes arrayed in brilliance.

08 February, 2006

Ready Set Go

The two game loosing streak is frustrating everybody. So we stepped up to four practices a week. Yesterday we scrimmaged four on four in the High School. The boys loved playing on the same floor that they see their local heroes battle on.

We told the boys to put on the pressure and seize poor passes. As the game went on, the tempers began to flare. Oscar and Tony took turn getting mad at each other as each tried to out fox the other. At the end of the scrimmage, there were a few tears but the boys held it together. When we debriefed, I think they started to see the reason behind the game. They're good shooters and great defenders but need to work on withstanding a tough opponent.

Today at practice, the boys did the 3 on 2 drill and did it to perfection. Defense was crisp and the passes exact. We ended the day by having them play against the third grade team. This team has some strong players so the game was a good test. We made a few mistakes but the boys held it together.

Afterwards they watched Mr. Martinez and I play a pick-up game against the Elementary School staff. We lost but the boys had fun watching the adults play their game. I drove them home. In the car we listened to rap and acted goofy. Freddy, relaxed and smiling said, "I feel good about our next game and I think we can win."

06 February, 2006

Tough Game and Stories

The Wahluke Eagles lost a close game at home on Saturday against the East Valley Pistols. The final score was 25-20. We started the game strong and at the end of the first quarter it was 6-0 Eagles. But the Pistols kept coming and captitalized on our errors. They pulled ahead. We rallied at the end but like the Seahawks we just ran out of time.

Our biggest errors were turn-overs and not making our lay-ins. To remedy this, we started having scrimmages with 5 against 4. We want the team with 4 to get used to the pressure and force them into making quick passes. We also adapted a new lay-in drill. The boys have to make 10 lay-ins in one minute, if they don't they have to run.

At practice today and yesterday, the boys seemed down. After going undefeated for a year, they are taking two consecutive losses hard. Today we had them come in for a chat after we noticed even our starters slowing down and giving up. We started off reminding them that even though our opponents had been playing longer we could still take them. We reminded them that they are sons of campesinos. They have dealt with things in life that would make other kids cave. I started reminding them about how they're parents had to quit school and work as young kids and how they have remind themselves of the strength that resides in their families.

I think Freddy started by sharing about how is mom and dad quit school and came across the border to work. Tony shared that his dad came across when he was like 11 or 13 to work. And even Mr. Martinez shared how he and his brothers snuck under fence a long time ago.

I don't know if my speech worked but I wanted to remind the kids that they can't give-up and need to press on in basketball and in life.