By: Shawn O’Brate
RIVERTON – From Mondays through Thursdays at local schools in Riverton you can hear the sound of joyous laughter as well as basketballs bouncing against the floor. That’s the sound of little elementary schoolers learning the skills necessary to play the game for the rest of their lives.
“The goal for these [kids] is to get them to understand the game a little bit, and then I try to get them drills they can do on their own so they can practice and get better,” Tyler Jordan, a former varsity basketball coach at Wind River and instructor for Playmaker Basketball League said after a Tuesday session.
A group of 20+ first and second grade girls, the second-largest group of athletes Jordan has ever taught at once, dribbled around Jordan and some volunteer parents for over an hour as they went through different drills and practices that they can easily do at home.
“I try to keep it as simple as possible so that when they’re practicing they can remember those little skill cues and hopefully get better when they practice by themselves or with their parents,” Jordan said.
It is not the same for every group, especially the younger kids, because according to ‘R’ Recreation Program Director Mary Axthelm it is all based on an “age-based curriculum.” Kindergartners all the way through sixth graders utilize what their coaches teach them so they enjoy the sport more, learn more about foundational basketball, and continue to play.
“Our goal is that they enjoy this part of basketball,” Axthelm said about the Playmaker Basketball League. “We want them to continue to play here and by middle school they have the skills needed to compete.”
After some dribbling practice, some passing practice and some fun in between there was a game of “Sharks and Minnows” played where the little basketballers had to dribble across the court without getting caught by the dribbling sharks.
“We’ll do group games where we give them two minutes to make as many baskets as they can,” Jordan explained.
Part of the grade and age-based curriculums were all thought up by Axthelm and the ‘R’ Recreation group and current Lander Valley High School Basketball Coach Stu Mullins back in 2008 when they took over the “loosely-structured” program.
“[Mullins] helped us, he knew of the Playmaker Basketball League and he wanted to bring it here to help our kids become fundamentally sound in basketball,” Axthelm explained.
Since 2008 the program has only gotten better, even with the loss of Mullins when he went from being Riverton High School’s basketball coach to Lander Valley’s. This includes the fifth and sixth-graders that play five-on-five games at Rendezvous Elementary Gym who are unofficially part of the Wind River Conference Basketball League that is filled with schools around Fremont County.
Every school outside Riverton and Lander Valley has their own programs for fifth and sixth-grade basketball players, and the ‘R’ Recreation group of basketballers learn similar skills and play similar games under the coaching of Riverton’s Bret Hoover, an assistant coach for the varsity girls’ team.
In the end the league is not meant to pit anybody against each other like the older leagues. It’s meant to give the girls and boys that have yet to really enjoy the sport a foundation to build on and grow in.
“The most important goal is to develop the players, make them fundamentally sound, and to just help them learn to enjoy the sport,” Axthelm said.
“I just like to see the growth over the time,” Jordan said before complimenting the group he had just coached. “The girls always listen so well, it’s crazy between the two [genders].”
The little girls and boys really seem to love learning the sport through Playmaker Basketb