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.

22 November, 2006

A Grateful Coach

The picture above shows us in a time-out against West Valley
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we had our first practice since the West Valley game. Juan and I met with boys and showed the a photo of the score from the third quarter that showed us down 23-2.

The purpose was to shake them up a little. Juan and I noticed that some of player get paralyzed with fear before the game begins. They stare at our opponents height, their uniforms, warm-ups, and gear. Then and there they decide that we surely cannot contend against a team like that. We are short, inexperienced, and not ready for the big time.

So borrowing a bit from Hoosiers, I reminded the boys that the hoop is the distance off the court, the arc the same distance, and dimensions of the court just like ours. Juan spoke to them about not giving up and becoming intimidated by our opponents size. And being teachers we tied into reading telling the boys never to judge a book by its cover and never decide the outcome of the game until you do your best on the court.

Later in the practice, the Mattawa league president told us that the coach of West Valley called him about our team. He said that our boys were the best behaved team he has ever seen and that despite the loss, we demonstrated good behavior. So we ended practice early for a party in Juan's classroom with juice, cupcakes, and chips.

I started a team discussion about what our criterion ought to be for adding new players and the boys answers made me proud. They said possible candidates needed to have good grades, be good kids in the classroom, show that they could get along with their teammates, and work hard.

Among the many things I am grateful for this year is the opportunity to work with this group of young men.

The picture above shows the front of our uniform shirt

Making A Game Of It

The picture above says it all. It was more than halfway through the third quarter and Wahluke was down 2-23 against the West Valley Rams. It was our debut in our new uniforms and we were down by 21 points. We play 7 minute quarters so there was 10 minutes and 37 seconds left and we looking at being blown out.

Earlier in the game at halftime, we spoke to the players and stated if we traveled all this way to play the least we can do is a make a game of it. Let us show them that we belong on the same court. Let us just do what we do in practice day in and day out. Let's play. And then it happened.

Oscar, Tony, Alan, Librado, Dario, and Eduardo were on the court when it happened. We finally began to score. I am not sure who hit the first one, but I think it was Alan with a three pointer at the top of the arc. West Valley probably thought it was a fluke, the desperate shot of a dying team. However we were just getting started. Tony or Oscar was next and the points started to add up. Then somewhere in the mix, Tony got fouled. He swishes his free throws and we start to feel our pulse.

The outside shots were falling, which opened up our inside game and gave us a couple of lay-ins. West Valley responded made a few of their own. And when the game ended it was West Valley 31-Wahluke 24. The totals for our team were Oscar with 11 (one three pointer), Tony with 8 (two three pointers and two free throws), and Alan with 5 (one three pointer). In ten minutes plus we scored 22 points and gave it our best shot. West Valley won the game but they knew and we did as well, had we another minute or so and the game would have been ours.

When the buzzer sounded we congratulated our opponents and went on to Burger King to celebrate. Win or loose we always go out to have some fun. The boys know that Juan and I want them to play their best, and act like champions on and off the court. We demand a great deal from our players with grueling practices that go all year long but in return they get recognition for their effort and know that we support them no matter what the score.

With ten minutes on the clock, we awoke from our slumber, hit our stride, and gave them a game.

12 November, 2006

Academic Letter

One our players is under academic suspension. His parents are upset so Mr. Martinez and I composed the following letter. We are posting it for any interested person to use.

Dear Mrs. Smith

Mr. Martinez and I realize that you are upset because your son did not play last Saturday. This letter aims to explain why he did not play. We believe that our players are student athletes. Student comes first. Success on the basketball court means nothing without an education. We put academic first and expect our players to be passing all their classes if they wish to play.

Our policy is the same as the school district. If a player is failing a class, he does not play until he gets his grades up. This applies equally to all our players. Sports are a privilege and in order to participate, one must show that they can handle the responsibility and use their time wisely.

Your son remains part of our team because he is a good person on and off the court. Our intention is provide the best opportunities that enrich his future. That means putting the books ahead of the basketball.


Estimada Sra. Smith

El señor Martinez y yo reconocemos que usted está molesta porque su hijo no jugó el sábado pasado. El propósito de esta carta es explicar por qué no jugó. Nosotros creemos que nuestros jugadores son estudiantes atletas. Son estudiantes primero y luego atletas. El éxito el la cancha de baloncesto no significa nada sin una educación. Para nosotros lo académico viene primero y la expectación es que todos los jugadores estén pasando sus clases si desean jugar.

Nuestra poliza es igual a la del desitrito escolar. Si un jugador está fallando una clase, no juega hasta que sus calificaciones se mejoran. Esa regla se aplica al igual que a todos nuestros jugadores. El deporte es un privilegio y para poder participar, uno tiene que mostrar que puede ser responsable y manejar su tiempo para ser una persona productiva.

Para nosotros su hijo todavía forma parte del equipo porque es un buen muchacho dentro y fuera de la cancha de baloncesto. Nuestra intención es solo proveerle oportunidades que le ayuden a desarrollar habilidades que le ayuden a prepararse para tener un buen futuro. Eso quiere decir poner los libres antes del baloncesto.


Not Our Game

The Wahluke Eagles played a closely contested game this Saturday (11 November) and lost to the Tri City Thunder 46-35.
(The photo to the left shows the team in a time-out during the fourth quarter )

It was our first home game of the season and the boys were eager to put on a show. We started off keeping it close but the height of our opponents was something we could not overcome. Despite a good passing and aggressive defense, we could not make-up for several turn-overs that resulted in Tri City points.

Oscar lead all scorers with 14 points. For the second game in a row, he hit a field goal that pulled us within 1o, but then the Thunder struck and pulled further away. Alan too had a great game scoring 11 points. He was aggressive on both sides of the court. Tony made 4 points shifted well between Point Guard and Forward. Lastly Gabino, Cristian, and Christopher each scored 2. Cristian had a steal as well that lead to an Eagle point.

Dario went scoreless but he is growing into his role each game. Today he aggressively went after boards on offense and defense. He improved his passing and demonstrated better ball control.

When the final buzzer sounded, our team kept their heads held high. We congratulated our opponents and know that we kept it close and fought to the end.

After the game we had a meeting with our sponsor Bill who spoke about the importance of academics. He elicited a promise from the boys to attend college after High School. Juan, Bethany, and I presented the boys academic achievements. Nine of our eleven players in fifth grade are on the Honor Role at school and several of them passed all or part of the WASL.

Juan, Bethany, and I were proud of the boys. The did their best. Next time we meet, we'll be ready and give it our best shot.

05 November, 2006

Showing We Belong

(Above) At halftime, the coaches remind the team that now it is our turn.

Flashback to 28 January 2006, when the Wahluke Eagles suffered their first loss against the East Valley Mules after a string of 14 wins spanning one calender year. Some of the boys were in tears as they left the court. East Valley out played us then and even though we fought to the end we lost 39-23.

Yesterday (04 November) was the rematch and we were ready to play. We started the game and kept it close for most of the first quarter but East Valley pulled ahead and the score was something like 8-4. Mr. Martinez and I were on the bench watching, knowing that if our team could just establish their rhythm we could turn it around.

However Alan our Foreword/Center had three personal fouls at the end of the quarter and we had to put him on the bench. Gabino made a series of great shots that just didn't fall. And Oscar was being hit and thrown to the floor with some regularity. We staggered through the second quarter like a prize fighter hanging on the ropes and at half time it was 15-8 and East Valley was in control.

We sat the boys down and told them East Valley had their chance to put us away and drive up the score but they didn't. They had their chance and didn't execute and now it was our turn. The horn sounded and the momentum shifted. Earlier in the game the opposing coach instructed his player to guard 25 (Oscar) as he is "their only scorer." So Oscar brings the ball up apasses to Tony who drives, curves around his defender and throws up a lay-in that finds the net. Later in the quarter Gabino is at the other side of the court and launches an almost three pointer that scores as well.

And on defense our boys came alive. They popped out, went for rebounds, got steals, forced turn overs, and didn't let their opponent rest. Every possession was contested and the score reflected their effort because at the end of the third quarter it was 17-12 East Valley still on top.

We work the boys hard every practice and often times they stagger out of the gym looking for water. We do this because we know the fourth quarter is our quarter. Tony gets the ball rolling by launching a field goal to make it 17-15. East Valley responded and we did as well with a couple of points. So with three minutes left it was 19-18 East Valley still on top. Oscar get the ball and with his tired arms and sore back, he throws up a field goal to make it 21-19 Wahluke lead.

The last two minutes were a blur. We put Alan back into the game reminding him that he had to play tough defense but one foul would give East Valley a free throw and probably the game. And then as the seconds ticked down it was a flurry of shots, rebounds, timeouts, and passes. Somewhere we got one point and East Valley two. But with 8 seconds left, Oscar inbounds to Gabino, who passes to Tony, who with two second left launches an outlet pass down the court as the game ends with Wahluke on top. Final score 22-21, Wahluke wins.

We huddled up, cheered East Valley, shook hands and left the court like professionals. Only later in the car and at Burger King did we celebrate. Alan confided that he did not want to go in during the fourth quarter but he swallowed his fear and did his job. Also in the fourth Gabino wanted out of the game as his wrist hurt but I asked if he could stay in and he did. Oscar told us of the pushes, shoves, and smirks he endured from the other team. And Mr. Martinez Mrs. Morales (our film coach), and I told the boys how proud we were of all their work.

The finals were Oscar 11 points, Tony 7 and Alan and Gabino both with 2. But beyond the baskets were the little things like Christopher and Eduardo holding down the fort and keeping us in it when Alan was in foul trouble. Jose did his job as well and played solid defense not letting his man settle in for a shot.

With three minutes on the clock, Oscar supported by his team launches perhaps the biggest shot in our team history and like Freddy's heroics in Mabton last year, showed that our team is ready.

03 November, 2006

The Uniform Journey

Due to support received from private donors and the Washington State Association of School Psychologists, the Wahluke Eagles were able to order uniforms and warm-ups. I thought once we had the support the rest would be easy and well I was wrong. One company had what we wanted but it would come in three weeks and then when I called back it was three more weeks. Another company sent me the wrong sizes and finally we decided to try a local retailer in Yakima. So today (Friday 03 November) I received a call that the samples were in so today right after school Juan and I took off with a cross section of the team. On the way there the boys listened to rap and also appreciated the beauty of the tree line on a ridge silhouetted by the fog.

We departed with Dario (the biggest), Alan (tall and slim), Gabino (short), Christopher (medium and stocky), Oscar (medium), and Tony (medium and skinny). We drove to Yakima and arrived ready to go. Then things got a little silly. The boys were rotating through the dressing room trying on shorts, tear-aways, uniforms, and shooters. The came out of the dressing room and Juan appraised the situation and either approved the fit or sent them in for another try. One would think that the boys could change into basketball clothes in under two minutes but for some unknown reason they took around five minutes to change and emerge from the room.

The salesperson did a great job and would inform Juan or I that Christopher needed to try the tear away pants with the shorts or that Dario might need a bigger size, or that Gabino still hadn't tried on the jersey and the shirt together. After we sized the boys we went to the counter and voted on a print design and eagle logo for the uniform shirt. An hour later we left the store laughing and ready to eat.

We wanted to try the Old Country Buffet but the hour wait scared us away so we hit the Chinese buffet. I sat across from Dario and watched in amazement as he out away about six plates. Tony stuck mostly to the shrimp and chicken, Oscar sampled everything, and Gabino, Chris, and Alan stayed close to the pizza. Meanwhile they spoke German to the waiter, joked in Spanish with each other, read their fortunes aloud, looked at the giant carp, and generally had a lot of fun.

While we ate we reminded the players that things like this are some of the benefits they receive for all their hard work at practice. Juan and I expect a lot from the boys. We ask them to be student-athletes on and off the court. In turn they help us become better coaches, communicators, and examples and rightfully inform us when we don't meet the team expectations. It was especially enjoyable to be with Christopher, Gabino, Oscar, and Tony as these four have been with me from the beginning when as third graders they played against second graders in the Catholic league. Of the original seven only these four have been stayed with the program through the summer practices, mile runs, Friday pregame practices, and Sunday shoot around. It was from these humble beginnings clad in homemade uniforms that their dreams of basketball glory began and when I began to learn from them.

Afterwards on the way home we rocked to the Smack That, told ghost stories, and I observed Dario chew gum using his chopsticks while Tony changed the radio stations with his. Alan wanted to hear Mexican Banda and was voted down, and I just drove home enjoying the great chemistry of our team knowing how lucky I am.