Six-, 7- and 8-year-old boys on the basketball court circled in close around as Thomas More Prep-Marian senior Grant Ginther gave pointers on the game plan Friday night.
“We pride our program on our defense,” the 17-year-old Ginther told the boys, who stopped shouting, jumping and running just long enough to hear. “Shell drill is our favorite thing to do, so whenever coach says shell drill, we get really excited.”
Ginther, his 17 teammates and coaches were teaching the Catholic school’s first Christmas Basketball Camp at the Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
About 35 boys ages Kindergarten through fifth grade scattered to the various drill stations set up on the court, each one taught by a trio of players from the TMP boys' basketball team.
“You need to listen to them,” said Monarch head coach Bill Meagher at the start of the action Friday night. “We’re gonna do a little dribbling, a little shooting and a little passing.”
At his station, Ginther started with a fist bump for one young hopeful then put the ball in play. As was taught, each defensive player covered his offensive ball-holding opponent by waving his hands high and shouting “ball, ball, ball, ball.”
Junior point guard Ethan Brummer, 16, also offered some coaching.
“Hey guys, when we play defense in practice, we have to be loud,” he reminded them. “If we’re not loud, we have to run.”
Off the court, junior Carson Jacobs, 17, led a tour of the weight and locker rooms, helped by 15-year-old freshmen Jace Wentling and Kenton Ginther.
“I feel like this is just for kids to have fun,” Jacobs said. “For them to let loose and have fun and be themselves.”
Heading into the lockers, five giggling and shouting campers ran ahead like spilled marbles, weaving in and out of showers, straddling benches and jumping into open lockers. Directions like “don’t turn on the water” had little effect, but the campers stopped to listen when Jacobs said “this is my locker” and slammed his hand on the metal. “After we win our games, we come in here and do this,” he said, slamming it some more. “You guys can bang them for a little bit.” And with enthusiasm the campers made the metal roar.
Back courtside, parent Eddie Perrett watched from the sidelines, observing his 8-year-old son, Ben, who’s only played a little basketball through Hays Recreation Center.
“I wanted him to come, I played basketball here at TMP,” Perrett said. “Plus I really like Coach Meagher, he preaches a good message.”
Ann Gottschalk watched her 8-year-old son, Justin, a classmate with Ben at Holy Family Elementary. A somersault tumble sent Justin sprawling on the gym floor. “He’s having a ball,” Gottschalk said with a smile.
Danny and Jill Dinkel, Hays, brought their fifth-grader, Caden, along with his friends, Chase and Ashton Drennon.
Danny thought he and Jill might get some gifts wrapped in the meantime.
“It’s good for him to be out of the house and not in front of a video game,” said Dinkel. “He looks up to the older players. We come to the games and this way he gets to see them on a little more personal level.”
Assistant coach James Harris said the Christmas Camp should inspire boys, in a town that is already very enthusiastic about basketball. Many of the young ones get their start at Hays Rec, which Harris said does “an amazing job.”
“We love basketball, and we love teaching kids and watching them grow into young men,” Harris said. “These young kids see the older kids as they’re growing up and it ignites that fire in them.”
Six-year-old Jonah, who was practicing dribbling, said he plays basketball at Hays Rec on a team called The Rebel Dogs. Asked what’s the trick to dribbling, Jonah shrugged his shoulders then used his right hand to demonstrate a downward patting motion.
Also at that station, Holter, 6, said he’s played basketball before, “at my house, with my dad.”
Santa Claus did make an appearance during a break. All the TMP players were present except senior Jared Mayers, 17. Mayers, who momentarily stepped out, missed Santa’s run onto the court to flawlessly score a lay up.
Asked about Jolly St. Nick’s form, Coach Meagher laughed “I think it’s really hard to do that in a suit,” he said. “My guys said it looked like Santa’s been working out. He looked a little slimmer than usual.”
As the campers drank Gatorade during their break, Ginther pointed out the trophy case, in particular the 2007 KSHSAA state championship trophy for Class 4A boys basketball.
“Those are what we want to get every year,” he told the boys. “That’s the goal.”
Normally a point guard, a football injury to his knee has Ginther working from the bench so far this season.
“I just try to do my part, and offer guidance,” he said Friday, watching the boys he was teaching. “I help as much as I can from the sidelines.”