Club basketball plays on, when possible

Fewer tournaments in wake of pandemic, but players and coaches appreciate any opportunity to play

They spent the spring with nowhere to go, with every tournament called off in wake of the pandemic.

Still, there was a chance they could play in the summer. 

“One tournament is better than zero,” said Claire Heitschmidt, a senior-to-be at Prairie High School.

And, in fact, her club basketball team, ABA, has now played in three tournaments — one in Fort Collins, Colo., and two others in Indianapolis. There is the possibility for more. Heitschmidt is grateful for any opportunity to play the game.

The ABA basketball club won its bracket at a tournament in Indianapolis recently. Club basketball, like all sports, has seen its share of cancellations this summer. But club teams are still ready to travel whenever a tournament does go on as planned. Photo courtesy Cindy Litchford
The ABA basketball club won its bracket at a tournament in Indianapolis recently. Club basketball, like all sports, has seen its share of cancellations this summer. But club teams are still ready to travel whenever a tournament does go on as planned. Photo courtesy Cindy Litchford

Columbia Cascade, another club team for girls basketball, also played the two tournaments in Indianapolis in the last week. 

ABA and Columbia Cascade feature several athletes from Clark County.

“The kids haven’t got to play all spring and summer,” Cascade coach Al Aldridge said. “Some need to get better to have a chance to go to college and play. For a lot of kids, this summer is the last go-round for them.”

Meaning for the seniors-to-be, the last opportunity to play in showcases designed to attract the attention of college coaches. 

Sure, high school basketball is where a lot of the “glory” comes from, the chance to represent one’s school and community. Oftentimes, though, it is the spring and summer showcases where an athlete is first noticed.

“My thing is I’m trying to provide an opportunity for them to get better in what limited time we have together,” Aldridge said. “Get highlight film on them to promote to colleges.”

Steve Gardner, who coaches ABA, has six players who will be seniors. 

“College coaches were able to stream it,” he said of the latest tournament action in Indianapolis. “That’s why I did it, the recruiting of the girls. It’s mostly to get some of those seniors who didn’t have scholarship offers, allowing coaches to watch online. And it worked. I’ve got a ton of calls. It’s going to pay off, for sure.”

For a while there, no one knew if there would be any club basketball in 2020.

“I was definitely going crazy. Usually in the months and April and May, I’m gone every other weekend. We couldn’t do any of that. That was really hard,” Heitschmidt said. 

Still, there was that hope. So the team did just that, kept hope alive for a chance to shine anywhere.

“I wanted to play,” she said. “Less tournaments is better than nothing.”

The pandemic has also led to basketball coaches becoming travel agents.

Aldridge noted that a tournament in Nashville was moved to Indianapolis the day before his team was to leave for Tennessee. So he spent hours changing plane tickets, renting vans, finding new hotel rooms.

“Just trying to provide opportunity for the kids,” Aldridge said.

Gardner’s son, who plays on a club team, flew to Utah for a tournament only to have that tournament called off at the last minute.

Claire Heitschmidt, who will be a senior at Prairie, said playing in one or just a few club tournaments this summer is still a lot better than not playing at all. Photo by Mike Schultz
Claire Heitschmidt, who will be a senior at Prairie, said playing in one or just a few club tournaments this summer is still a lot better than not playing at all. Photo by Mike Schultz

This summer, it is not just about traveling to a city and playing basketball. Nope. There are a lot more rules and regulations to follow.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can,” to stay safe, Aldridge said. “Checking temperatures every day, morning and night. Hand sanitizer. Cleaning the bags. Masks everywhere they go.”

In Indianapolis, spectators had to sit 6-feet apart from one another. There is a tournament coming up in which spectators are not allowed at all.

“It’s definitely different,” Heitschmidt said. “It’s just very different in how everything feels. The worst part is you can’t watch other teams. You have to get in, play, then get out. That’s really different.”

Aldridge and Gardner say coaches, players, and family members understand the risks involved.

Parents had to sign waivers. Athletes had to sign waivers. And coaches? They sign a waiver, not just before a tournament, but before every single game. 

The teams did get to see the sights and sounds of Indianapolis. They might take their masks off for before a team picture, but they remained cautious throughout their stay, the coaches said. 

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, was open for tours, too — with social distancing rules. The players took advantage of that to create another memory.

“We lived it up a little bit,” Gardner said, noting how the players rented scooters to ride around the city. “We acted like it was just a normal summer, trying to have some normalcy to it. We were fortunate to win a lot of games, too. That was fun.”

Oh yes, ABA won its bracket in one of the Indianapolis tournaments.

Trophy or no trophy, though, this summer will be remembered forever by those who still played club basketball at all.

Back in March and April, no one knew if there would be any games at all.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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