Girls Prep Basketball

STEVE HANLON: Taking a club to girls hoops

2012-11-08T22:00:00Z 2012-11-20T23:36:34Z STEVE HANLON: Taking a club to girls hoopsSteve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
November 08, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

Like a basketball on an index finger, the earth keeps spinning.

Days change culture, and what once was is no more.

Nothing could be clearer than walking into the gymnasiums of Munster and LaPorte high schools in recent weeks. The echo of bouncing basketballs could be heard.

But it was symbolic tumbleweed that was seen.

Munster had 23 girls in grades 9 through 12 come out for girls basketball tryouts. LaPorte had 15 young ladies come out. And that is NOT a typo.

Three schools in the Northwest Crossroads Conference will not field a freshmen basketball team this winter because of lack of numbers.

The running opinion of girls hoops coaches is simple: year-round club volleyball is killing the sport that once put Northwest Indiana on the map.

"That is very accurate," LaPorte coach Skeeter Heath said with an exhausted breath.

He just exclaimed "wow" when asked how many potential hoopsters he's lost because of the expensive and time-consuming club volleyball commitment.

The issue isn't freedom and kids and their families choosing to play one sport, they say. It's because many club volleyball coaches are also coaching high school teams now.

It is to their financial benefit to "encourage" more players to forgo high school basketball and sign a check to play club volleyball January through December.

"It's a conflict of interest at the very least," said Hobart coach Mike Hamacher, who said he's lost between 20-30 kids in his eight years in Brickieland.

He said it's gotten worse since Kristi Hoese was hired as Hobart High's volleyball coach. Hoese also coaches for the Dunes Volleyball Club.

"When club coaches are in your building they can influence girls to do what they want them to do," Hamacher said. "I've heard stories of high school volleyball coaches telling kids that they won't make the team the next season if they don't play club."

I have, too.

Ken Markfull battled this new trend at Andrean before being let go after last season. He had three tall, athletic players come out for basketball for one day last season and then quit so they could play club volleyball.

Andrean volleyball coach Julie Wiejak is also a big part of Lake Shore Volleyball & Athletics. If you go to the Andrean website and look up the volleyball page, it links you directly to the Lake Shore website.

Once there, you will get photos and stories about the 59ers volleyball team, but you will also get announcements for joining the club team.

An attempt to reach Wiejak was unsuccessful.

"There was a time when very few kids played club volleyball," Markfull said, "and if they did they played basketball, too. Now, if you want to make a high school volleyball team you have to play club.

"Consequently, the (basketball) talent in the region is no where close to where it was 10 years ago."

Does anyone remember girls basketball around here in the 1990s? Gyms were packed as fans watched multiple state-ranked teams compete in Indiana's game.

Those teams had basketball-driven kids joining forces with their school-mates who picked volleyball as their No. 1 sport. But the seasons were divided and in the winter the best athletes combined for community spirit and pride.

That isn't the case anymore.

If high school volleyball teams in the area were making it downstate, maybe a case could be made for the switch.

But really, prep volleyball in northwest Indiana isn't very good and now girls basketball isn't either.

"The thing that hurts us is not only do they not come out for high school, but they play in the middle school," Heath said. "So you have other kids not getting as much playing time so their skill level isn't where it could be."

Hobart's Hoese did speak to the matter.

"I do not think it's a conflict of interest at all," said Hoese, whose is part of an organization that coaches 600 paying members in the Dunes.

"If you're looking at getting scouted for college now you have to play year round," Hoese said. "You can do both."

At first Hobart 6-foot-1 sophomore Zoe Wilson chose not to play basketball after being very good in middle school.

"I started playing basketball in second grade," Wilson said. "I was die-hard basketball up until my freshman year. Then, I fell in love with volleyball."

On Wednesday night Wilson's father called to let me know she changed her mind is going to play high school basketball, too. She should make a very good Brickies team even better.

Hamacher believes athletes all around the area are influenced by club coaches to stop playing high school basketball.

"I've heard this for years," said Dunes founder Rick Ashmore, who is also the volleyball coach at Kankakee Valley. "We allow kids to play multiple sports. Most kids do in middle school. But a lot of times when they get to high school the parents see in order to keep their grades up they have to make a choice."

Lowell senior Katie Bobos spent much of the last four years batting away hard offers from club volleyball teams. She played volleyball for her school, but she also played hoops.

She listened to the promises of almost sure volleyball scholarships if she played club. Instead, she is being recruited by Florida Gulf Coast for hoops.

But she has an eighth-grade sister who hoops and goes volleyball clubbing. The future of region girls basketball is hanging on the brink.

"The bad thing of playing one sport is doing the same thing over and over and over again," Bobos said. "You don't get to experience any other sports. You miss a lot of experiences with your high school friends.

"I want to enjoy it all."

 This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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