2018-03-08 / Voices

Coaching And Resources Matter At The Middle School Level


South Dakota’s Boys Class A bracket is now in the round of 16 as I write this column. There is a chance that Crow Creek, Red Cloud, and Pine Ridge could all qualify for the State Tournament. Douglas is stacked with Lakota talent and they have already qualified for the AA State Tourney. What these teams have accomplished this season is nothing short of amazing considering the odds that have been stacked against them.

I’ve spent most of my life watching basketball in Lakota Country. Everything from independent tournaments, to grade-school games, and probably more than a thousand high school games. I am used to seeing the athletic ability of our young people shine through.

For the past several weeks, I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach a 6th-grade boys’ basketball team at one of the bigger elementaries in Rapid City. Our entire team is made up of Lakota kids with ties to Pine Ridge, Martin, and Rosebud. The team likely has the most natural-talent of any team in town. They are now starting to reach that potential and win a ton of games with it.

Each weekend, I’ve watched students from all grades compete. What I’ve observed, starting at the 6th grade, the amount of resources invested in the development of individual talent is sometimes leaving our kids behind. It is shown that kids who participate in sports are more likely to graduate from high school. I had to ask myself, why are these kids not staying in school and paying for high school programs in the area after middle school?

What I see happening is that between the grades of 6th-8th, the ball players who are privileged enough to attend expensive skills camps and work with paid coaches on a one-to-one basis are catching up to our young people’s natural abilities.

To add some context to what I am talking about, we played two teams this weekend, both were backed by millionaire organizers. Each of the kids wore shirts emblazoned with the logo of the local big-name skills coach – and they played like it. The fundamentals that our opponents showed were a direct result of private coaching. At the 6th grade level we were still able to beat these teams using our natural talents and rez-hoops style game, but the gap is closing.

For those of us who are heavily involved with the game we understand that our youth face many challenges that others don’t. We also do not have the money to contract professionals or transport or kids to the gym. One program who I worked with continually struggled to add volunteers to their staff because the administration continually kept the community from contributing.

It seems like there has been a push-back from some recently about the benefits of basketball in our community. I’ve always been an advocate for the game as it gives 50- 100 students at each school a reason to stay on top of their academics and off the streets for a large part of the year. Our people do not have concert halls or many of the other things larger places do. We have the game. We have our youth that play it.

So, with that in mind it would nice to see more and more gyms made available to our young athletes. There could also be a registration process created by the tribe or other entities that could help filter out volunteers that should not be there. An open gym on the reservation means less kids on the streets and less opportunity for them to run afoul. An easy way to help the youth is to give them a place to hoop.

*Brandon Ecoffey is a weekly contributor to LCT and former editor. He has won numerous awards for his journalism in Indian Country. He founded the public relations firm Bad Face Consulting in 2016.

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