Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Learning the benefits, joys of team sports

International students get crash course in hoops, Idaho


Community School basketball players, from left, Amy Guo, Sarah Wang and Athena Wang. Courtesy photo by Hillary Maybery

This winter, the Community School girls on coach Erika Connelly’s basketball team looked through an entirely new prism at the benefits of team sports and the joys of participation and learning.

As always with Cutthroat sports, the girls brought to the court a wide range of experience and ability. When you live in a town where winter sports reign, it is often the case that many fall and spring team sport athletes are lost to the mountain or the ice rink during the cold weather months.

That cuts down on the number of available players for sports like basketball. So it wasn’t surprising that a small squad of eight reported for initial basketball practices in November. Yet when coach Connelly assessed her players, she saw talent and potential.
She also greeted three international boarding students from China who had come out for the team. They were freshman Athena Wang, sophomore Amy Guo and junior Sarah Wang.
None had ever touched a basketball in their lives.
That wasn’t the case with the rest of the team. Senior captains Taylor Figge and Ella Marks had returned to the court for the fourth year of their high school careers. They brought expertise, great skills and leadership to the squad.

Strong juniors Erin Hennessey and Tara Smith also returned. Ninth-grader Hope Perkins had played for the middle school team.

Amy, Athena, and Sarah’s inexperience did make the first few weeks a bit of a challenge. “For our new players, we started the season with the very basics,” Erika explained. “We had to go over the rules, all the drills, and launch into games pretty quickly. It was a steep learning curve.”
That was fine with Connelly. She emphasizes participation and fun in Community School team sports. She was excited to have the girls come out to play, despite their lack of ball handling skills. “If you want to play and are willing to work hard, we can turn you into a basketball player,” she said.

While the English speaking skills of the three girls is very good, no matter how fluent you are in a second language, specialized vocabulary, like that in sports, may be new.
Terms like “rebound,” and “foul,” and “backboard” are not really taught in English Language classes.
As co-captain Figge said, “Basketball is not as easy as it looks! There are a lot of rules.”
Team sports, in general, were a bit a mystery to the new players. Athena had played volleyball before, but Sarah and Amy had never participated in a traditional team sport until this winter. For all three, learning the rules for them was the hardest part.

“Tactics were hard,” laughed Athena. “Two-three zone, four low—it’s like a whole different language and it’s hard to remember everything!”

Sarah said, “At the beginning, I really had no idea what was going on. It was hard to not understand even the basics of the game.”

But the girls learned quickly and gained a tremendous deal from the experience. From lessons in teamwork to the importance of being fit, all three said they were really proud to wear the blue and white jersey.

The off-the-court benefits were life changing, too. Sarah said her favorite part of being a Cutthroat player was traveling to away games because she really enjoyed the bus trips with her friends. All three also expressed how much they enjoyed the travel to away games, not only because they got to spend time with their teammates, but because they got to see rural Idaho.
“We saw so many other, different schools and met different people, which was great,” according to Sarah.

In the big picture, their participation was vital to many of Community School’s goals to fully integrate international and boarding students into the daily fabric of life on campus.
This year, eight students from China and 12 other boarding students from around the country and the world have been an integral part of Community School’s community. Team sports helped the newcomers integrate.
Sarah said, “As international students, it is very hard for us to communicate with others sometimes. But we can get on well with each other during practice. It’s easy to joke and talk.”
Amy appreciated the support she got from her teammates. She said, “I am a beginner but the girls never blamed me for making a mistake. Instead they always encouraged me and taught me how to play. Athletics and team sports are very good opportunities to meet people with similar interests and a great way to get to know our schoolmates better.”

Figge said the ‘homegrown’ players really appreciated their new teammates. The co-captain said, “Amy, Athena, and Sarah showed up to every practice ready to learn how to play basketball and their hard work paid off in our last game against ISDB when they each scored.

“These players had a positive impact on our team. A few of us came into the season reluctant to play, but Amy, Athena, and Sarah made coming to practice fun. If three girls who had never played a sport in their lives could enjoy basketball, so could we!”
Co-captain Marks said the addition of the three girls was great for the team in unexpected ways. She said, “As captains of a team that included three brand new players, Taylor and I had added responsibility.
“We had to be very mindful at all times to be good sports and set a good example on the court. We also tried as hard as we could to teach the new players about the game. Everyone on our team scored at least one point this season and although that may not sound like a huge accomplishment, it was our season’s goal and we are all very happy to have achieved it.”
Though the girls ended the season with a record of 5-8, the final stats told only a small part of the team’s story.
Community School plays in the Northside Conference, one of the most competitive in Idaho that often produces state champions. “Our games are competitive and very close, much closer than the season record might show,” said Connelly. “We are proud of our record this year. But our program is also fun and inclusive. The girls have a great time out there.”

Connelly said she was proud of all the girls, and that it was wonderful to see the returning players support and teach the international students.

The coach said, “It was great to have Amy, Athena, and Sarah this year, willing to try something new. They exemplify what we believe about sports—if you try it, you might like it.”

All in all, the experience for Sarah, Amy and Athena was a terrific one, and all three are planning to return to the court next winter.

Cutthroat basketball awards given

The Community School announced its 2012-13 basketball awards during the March 6 post-season awards banquet. This year’s recipients:
- Girls’ junior varsity—Most Inspirational: Erin Hennessy. Best Offense: Ella Marks. Best Defense: Taylor Figge. Coaches Award: Hope Perkins. Most Original: Tara Smith. Most Improved: Amy Guo, Athena Wang and Sarah Wang.
- Boys’ varsity (voted upon by coaches and players)—Most Valuable Player: Taylor Adler. Best Defensive Player: Reed Roudabush. Most Improved: Colton Sholtis.
- Boys’ junior varsity—Most Valuable Player: Garrett Rawlings. Best Defensive Player: Keegan Whitelaw. Most Improved: Pierson Carlsen.

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