Basketball: Local coaches say feeder programs unlikely to be established

July 13, 2012 

— While basketball feeder programs are popular around the state, they are rare in the Tri-Cities.

The Richland Gunners Basketball Club, which was started by 1987 Richland High graduates Jeff Kreutz and Joe Northrop, is the only of its kind in the area.

But it’s not as though other area schools wouldn’t like to have a more established youth program.

“Sometimes it takes a parent that is involved,” said Bradyn Leyde, Kennewick boys basketball coach, “and is a good coach and is able to bring a group of guys together and guide them through a group of years. It makes a difference.”

Kennewick benefited last season from a group of its core players being on AAU teams together for a number of years, building chemistry throughout.

But building a true youth league like the Gunners are attempting to do is not something that seems likely in Kennewick.

“I’ve had people approach me about it,” said Brian Meneely, Kamiakin boys coach. “You sit down and talk with them, and you just try to encourage them to get kids out playing. We obviously follow specific rules about how much involvement we can have. In the end, we want kids playing.

“You are always happy to see a lot of kids playing basketball, baseball or football, depending on what sport you coach.”

Chiawana High boys coach Chad Herron does have some contact with middle school coaches about which players to watch.

While most kids at Ochoa Middle School go to Chiawana, the kids at McLoughlin Middle School split between Pasco High and Chiawana, making it impossible to tell the middle school coaches to run the Riverhawks’ offense.

“I would like to align our middle schools better than they are,” he said.

But it’s tough because there’s high turnover among coaches at the middle school level, Herron said.

Feeder programs are most successful in towns with one high school, such as Mercer Island, Auburn or Maple Valley. They can be successful at two-high school towns, but it takes a dedicated group of volunteers and a long-tenured high school coach.

Another problem in the Tri-Cities is that baseball reigns supreme, so there is more structure for aspiring players in that sport, through Little League, Cal Ripken leagues and Babe Ruth leagues.

Basketball teams in the Tri-Cities have had some success at the state level, despite the lack of youth leagues, but it is not on a consistent year-to-year basis.

In Richland, that is something the Gunners club is hoping to help change.

“(The youth) are taking advantage of it,” said Richland High’s boys coach Earl Streufert. “It’s a basketball town and kids will play. Give them those opportunities and good things will happen.”

While Streufert stands to benefit the most from the Gunners club, there will be plenty of other coaches around the Tri-Cities watching to see if it is successful.

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