By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Youth basketball is back at Waterloo.
Both the boys and girls youth programs had fallen dormant over the past few years for a variety of reasons, including crippling financial constraints to rent gym space at the district as the result of failed school levies, as well as COVID.
The result was the collapse of the program outside of an occasional team that was created and coordinated by parents, but ultimately, there was no specific youth program working in step with the middle school and high school.
Adam Heppe stepped forward to oversee the youth boys basketball program and Nicole Lewis volunteered to take over the direction of the youth girls basketball program.
The duo, along with plenty of help from parents along the way, were able to enter five teams total into youth leagues this season, with three boys teams in the Portage Youth Basketball League run by the Kent Parks and Recreation Department and two girls teams in the Springfield Youth Girls Basketball League.
It was an opportunity neither Heppe or Lewis were ready to allow slip away for another year.
“Waterloo has some great young athletes in the school system that haven’t been introduced to basketball until this year,” Heppe said. “The growth and development every player has made this year has been really rewarding to watch.”
The biggest smile Heppe gets, though, is when he sees his players smile.
“To see the excitement all of the kids have running to the gym, because they can’t wait to get to practice is what really makes it worth it,” he said. “Every single kid on all three of our youth teams arrive excited to practice, excited to play and excited to spend time with their friends. That’s what youth basketball is about.”
Lewis has experienced an identical situation with her girls teams.
And that enthusiasm had just been waiting to be unlocked.
“I believe that (Waterloo) coach (Kevin) Longanecker has wanted to have a youth program, but he did not have anybody to run or organize it,” Lewis said. “When I approached him, he mentioned that I had answered his prayers and that he was happy that someone was willing to take it on for him.”
In February 2022, Lewis had 30 girls signup for a six-week training session that first introduced ball-handling, passing, shooting and defense to a group of new players. In June, Lewis hosted a four-day camp, then was able to fill out a combined third and fourth grade team, as well as a combined fifth and sixth grade team with 25 registered players.
“My goal this year was to get girls interested in the game, teach fundamentals, get a ball in their hands and find a league they could have friendly competition to learn the game,” Lewis said. “I feel that we have just begun.”
Heppe mirrors Lewis’ perspective on the first year and the future.
“We just hope that our youth pgoram can become a great feeder program for the middle school and high school teams,” Heppe said. “Our goal right now is to let the kids fall in love with basketball and teach them great fundamentals along the way.”