The Hot Corner: Starting young is key to high school athletic success

July 17th, 2015 12:10 pm

The Hot Corner

Nick Wagner

Guest camp volunteer and recent Warrior standout athlete Emily Wolfgang, right, has fun with camper Nina Angeli, a fourth-grader.
Tinsley Sarnak, eighth grade, practices foul shots prior to camp beginning.
At the beginning of camp each day, players ran through exercises.
Warrior junior varsity coach, Alison Wolfgang, lower right, teaches campers the proper way to shoot a basketball.
Wyoming Area head girls basketball coach Chad Lojewski, top center, introduces camp staff to the campers. Assisting Lojewski, in addition to Alison Wolfgang, are Krissy Williams, George Barilla and former local basketball standout Larry Koretz.
Sarah Gallagher, 8, focuses on her shot position.

Growing up in an athletic family, I learned quickly what it takes to hit the peak of your athletic career before graduating from high school.

From the time I could pick up a bat, or dribble a basketball, or figure out what it takes to get in a three-point stance, that’s what I always focused on. Early on, I realized that to find athletic success, you must put in time at a young age. That was 20 years ago and times haven’t changed.

Here in Greater Pittston, youth sports play a very large role in building a foundation for successful future high school careers. This past week, Wyoming Area’s girls basketball team did its part in making sure the next decade of local basketball will be the best it can be in Greater Pittston.

Wyoming Area hosted the Young Lady Warriors Basketball Camp from July 13-16 for third through eighth-graders in the Wyoming Area School District.

Not only did campers learn from varsity coaches, they were privileged to spend time with players they watch throughout the season as varsity players were on hand to mentor the young players.

Wyoming Area head coach Chad Lojewski said the four-day camp featured 31 girls from the district who learned fundamentals of the game and worked on drills. Lojewski said the girls left the gym tired, but with smiles on their faces.

He said getting players in the gym at a young age is “critical to the future success within the school district.”

“The kids these days, especially at younger ages, have access to many other sports,” he said. “Without getting them at that level, it’s difficult to range the interest and get them engaged to improve.”

I’m an advocate of making sure those kids have fun while learning. It shouldn’t be difficult for them to come back to the gym. Lojewski and his staff made sure of that.

“They’ve really had a lot of smiles on their faces,” the coach said. “It’s kind of fun to watch them evolve as friends (with the varsity girls). It’s like a big sister, little sister type. The older girls enjoy the energy of the (younger) girls.”

Recent Wyoming Area graduate Emily Wolfgang knows what it takes to compete at the high school level. When she was younger, she attended camps throughout the area. She finished her Wyoming Area career as one of the best female athletes.

Wolfgang took part in the four-day camp as a mentor.

“I used to love these camps because I learned so much from the older girls and it made me excited to be involved,” she said. “It’s really important for me to be a part of this.”

During the season, Wyoming Area holds an elementary night before one of the girls’ games. Lojewski said there were approximately 40 young players in attendance at last season’s event. The girls came to root on their favorite Warriors, many of them cheering for Wolfgang.

“A lot of people just come to the games to socialize,” she said. “For the younger kids to want to watch us means a lot.”

Some girls involved with the camp are not as gifted as others. That’s the nature of the beast. Wolfgang made sure those players received just as much attention as others.

“You just have to stay positive with them and let them know you don’t have to be the most athletic person on the floor,” she said. “If you support your teammates, it’s just as important as being athletic.”

I graduated from Northwest Area in 2007. Although Wyoming Area is a bit larger, both schools are similar — seventh through 12th-graders all attend classes in the same school building. While playing sports, the opportunity to interact with younger kids is there.

In many cases, the younger ones looked upon the older ones as professional athletes.

“It’s nice to see them interact with the older kids,” Lojewski said of the younger players. “The season will be here before we know it.”

Nick Wagner is a former basketball coach who understands what it takes to succeed at the high school level. Reach him at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick.