Wednesday nights at the Iola-Scandinavia Community Fitness & Aquatic Center gym are filled with fun.
Seven area youth, ages 5-7, known as the Little T-Birds, are learning the game of basketball under the direction of Joe Opperman and Scott Tappa.
“We’ve got a group of six to seven boys and girls that have been coming with their parents one night a week for about an hour of basketball practice,” Opperman said. “It’s kind of an introduction to basic skills.
“This is the first time we’ve really done anything like this with this age group,” he added. “It started because a few of them are signed up for a 3-on-3 tournament in April, so we figured we better spend a little time practicing. We wanted to have at least six kids there so we could mix in a little 3-on-3 play from time to time. I do think at a young age, kids can learn a lot and improve with very little time devoted to it. My older son started practicing in third grade and everyone on his team improved with very little practice time. I’m happy to say that also seems to be true with this younger age group.”
So what do the kids think about this?
“I’m better than Joe,” said Korz Loken, 5. “I can steal the ball from him. I’m gooder than Scott, too.”
“I’m better than Joe and Scott too,” added 5-year old Maya Munoz.
“I like dribbling and shooting,” Owen Wolberg said. “Basketball is a lot of fun, but I don’t like being beat by the girls.”
“We work really hard, but I still have a lot more practice to do,” Charlie Tappa said.
All the boys agree they don’t like playing against the girls, but Munoz feels different.
“I like playing with the boys and I am better than all of them,” she said.
Wearing jerseys that hang to their knees, these youngsters take the floor with smiles on their faces. It’s evident they are all having a good time.
Munoz proudly wears the number 5 on her jersey, just like her big sister Lexi.
Dribbling is the hardest part, the players said.
“They have us dribble between cones on the floor,” Charlie Tappa said.
“I just don’t get why they have us do that,” Wolberg said. “I have never seen a cone on the floor during a game.”
“Trying to bounce the ball between my legs is the hardest part,” Munoz said. “My legs are too short.”
All the kids agree that making a basket is a lot of fun.
“We are able to lower the hoop down to 7 feet, so these kids are able to play just like the big kids do,” Opperman said. “We spend time shooting and talking about the right way to shoot. At this point, everyone is making a lot more shots than they did when we started. They’re all very proud when the ball goes in. They get a lot of positive reinforcement.”
“I like it when the ball swooshes,” Wolberg said.
Opperman seems to take in stride all the happenings of practicing with kids of this age.
“We’ve got one participant who even after weeks and weeks of practice, I honestly can’t tell you if she’s left handed or right handed,” he said. “It doesn’t slow her down one bit. We have another whose biggest challenge is getting him to stop dancing and acting as his own NBA color commentator throughout most of practice.”
With an environment like this, where practice is kept fun and light-hearted, it’s clear that everyone involved is having a blast.
“Honestly, the hardest part is dragging them out of the gym when it’s time to go home,” Opperman said.