Dribbling a basketball while catching and tossing a tennis ball is a great way for Brandon Stewart and his teammates to increase their ball handling skills. Hope Secondary is fielding five basketball teams this season and hosting the C.E. Barry girls’ team for their home games.

Hope basketball teams ready for new season

Hope Secondary fields five teams this year and hosts C.E.Barry Grade 7 girls for home games

The Hope Mustangs floor is taking a daily pounding, as five basketball teams get ready for the coming season. Add the C.E. Barry Grade 7 girls and it makes six teams using the Hope Secondary floor. There is no Grade 7 boys’ team this year.

“The Grade 7 girls have already started their season,” said HSS athletics director Alicia Dubois. “Ron MacDonald is their coach. They’ve got at least 10 teams in their league and they play their home games in our gym.

“On Nov. 20, Rosedale Middle and Chilliwack Middle are here for a triple header. Hope will play both teams, and they’ll play each other. Then on Dec. 4, G.W. Graham and A.D. Rundle will be here.”

For the high school teams, the coaching is a mix of school staff and community volunteers. Jake Giles, the youth-and-children’s pastor at Grace Baptist Church has taken on the Grade 8-9 boys’ team, while Grace’s senior pastor Jeff Kuhn is back for his sixth year of coaching — this time, with the Grade 9 girls.

Like Kuhn, Giles grew up south of the border.

“I grew up in Dallas, Texas,” said Giles. “I went to school in Chicago and lived most recently in east Tennessee.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to coach this year,” he added. “My last coaching stint was a couple of years ago in Dallas, where I coached seventh grade boys. Besides that, I’ve coached a few elementary-aged teams and led some summer training camps.

“I’m really excited about our team. We have some guys with experience, as well as some guys who are getting out on the floor for the first time. So far, our practices have shown me that our guys are willing to work hard and play together.”

Kuhn is getting assistance from Janelle Brouwer and his daughter Madison.

“After a tough series of tryouts we have solidified the team with 10 girls,” said Kuhn. “They’re working very hard and are quickly shaping into a tight team.”

He worked with the girls in Grade 8 and has moved up a notch with them.

“Last year was a tough year, as — for many of our girls — it was the first year they had played basketball competitively,” explained  the coach. “This year is looking more promising, with the team developing greater skill and understanding of the game. We’re looking forward to our first game in late November.”

With the high level of interest in girls’ basketball, the school is also fielding a Grade 8 team, coached by teacher Dawn Friesen. She and senior girls coach Tammy Nazarchuk were unavailable by press time.

Jason Fisher, who shares vice principal duties with Nazarchuk, is coaching the senior boys team this season — and he’s borrowing an old trick from retired sciences teacher Rick Piechotta: tennis balls. He has a boxful of them.

Practicing with a partner, one player dribbles a basketball down the floor, while the partner (walking backward) gently tosses a tennis ball for the dribbler to catch and throw with the free hand.

Gum chewing is optional.

“The work we do with the tennis balls is designed to improve hand-eye coordination, as well as working on keeping the head up while dribbling,” explained Fisher. “Some of the athletes are already quite good at it, as they have been doing this for a few years now.”

It’s a fairly young team, with only Nathan Polomark, Akshay Davesar, Travis Herrling and Kaine Coghill in the grad class. It’s a fairly low-altitude team, too, with only a few players pushing past the six-foot mark.

“The last time I coached the senior boys, we were in the same situation” said coach Fisher. “We played a 4-and-1 offence that time and will be running a similar offence again this season.

“The players I have on the inside don’t have as much basketball experience, but are athletic and are committed to improving. [Assistant coach] Ivan Marlatt and I will be working closely with them to improve their post play this season.”

“I’m really pleased with the number of athletes that showed up for tryouts this year, given the low numbers last year,” said Fisher. “With the number of Grade 10 and 11 athletes in the program now, it should bode well for the future of boys’ basketball at HSS. It’s also exciting to see an enthusiastic and knowledgeable coach taking on the junior boys’ program this year.”

The boys start their season on the road, with a tournament at Meadowridge School on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and the girls host their annual tournament on Dec. 14 and 15.

Dubois said that reduced enrolment has allowed the senior teams to register as single-A teams this year. The boys’ league has four teams and the girls’ six.

“Both teams start their seasons on the road and they don’t have their first home league game until Jan. 15, when they host Unity Christian,” said Dubois. “It’s just the way the schedule worked out — but after that, all of the games are at home.”