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Two Harbors Hoops Club: Building A Bright Basketball Future with Help From High School Volunteers

With the snow last Saturday and the holiday break, the kids of the Hoop Club were extra excited and enthusiastic at practice. I texted my mom later to tell her I had gone to the Two Harbors High School gym to watch the kids play. She, having been to a grandkid’s basketball practice recently, replied, “Aren’t they so joyful?”

That’s a good way to put it. There is pure joy emanating from kids who are having a blast. In the gym that morning, the joy was evident, and the energy was high. The kids were split into groups, with coaches and vol­unteers running them through drills, refer­eeing games, and building great basketball players and teammates.

“Solidifying fundamentals is the goal by the end of the 6th grade season. Otherwise, our numbers won’t be enough by the time they are in high school,” said Sarah Kuevi Akoe, president of the Two Harbors Hoops Club. “We’re trying just really to get kids excited about basketball again and at a younger age.”

The Hoops Club is coordinated through community education and is considered a club sport. Sarah, Kuevi Akoe, a former bas­ketball player, is passionate about growing the program and building strong players for the future.

Currently, the numbers are looking good. The program has doubled, and this year the K-3 team has 54 players. There are approxi­mately 40 students enrolled in the 4th-6th grades cre­ating individual 4th, 5th, and 6th grade boys teams and one combined grade girls team competing as a 5th grade team.

The 4th-6th graders compete through the Arrowhead League, which includes teams like Silver Bay, Barnum, Cloquet, and Her­mantown.

Basketball can be considered a more af­fordable sport compared to others, and has a less intense time commitment for the younger grades. This presents an opportunity to grow a love of the game at an impressionable age and foster a dedication to a team sport that offers known benefits in development.

To build up excitement for basketball, Sar­ah and the club have been integrating the program into the varsity game night envi­ronment. On Friday night games, the kids are welcome to participate in a half-time activity, such as a recent layup contest in which even a young fan from the opposing town ran down to play. Up by the concessions, “Little Tykes Basketball” is so popular that the line to shoot a basketball from behind a designated spot grows longer and longer. They all want to try again and again!

In addition, an award is presented to the players of the week from the 4th-6th grade teams in front of the fans.

These efforts are intended to bolster attendance for the junior and varsity games. Sarah wanted to ensure the community knew that kids in 5th grade and under could attend the games for free. In a long cold dark win­ter, going out to a heated gym to watch Ag­ates basketball is a great way to get out of the house, support the local team, eat some pop­corn and other snacks, or possibly get some young fans into wanting to join the club or volunteers interested in helping out.

There is a culture of volunteerism that has been fostered into the youths of the Two Harbors and neighboring school athletic programs. Sarah advised that they promote a “pay it for­ward” effort. I often see posts of team mem­bers who are helping out in the community. They move books at the library or use their muscles to help someone move, they fund­raise, and they make a difference to residents and local businesses alike.

Recently, I saw a call to action from Coach Gavin Bopp, coach of the Two Harbors High School girls basketball team, asking for vol­unteers to sign up to help out the Hoops Club at a Saturday morning practice.

Between the boys and girls teams, usually five or more will come on any given Satur­day. “They willingly come in and volunteer,” said Sarah. “It’s awesome.”

The high school players enjoy it, too. Trin­ity Giddings, a junior and varsity basketball player, has volunteered more than once to help coach the older of the kids. “It’s fun,” she said, balancing three basketballs she had picked up to put away after practice. “I like seeing all of them play. It’s kind of messy, but it kind of makes it better.” Mentoring is one of Trinity’s favorite parts of spending time on the court with the kids. “I love when they come up to me to ask me questions. They’re so cute.”

Thor Tokvam, a senior at Two Harbors High School, volunteers as well. “I like spending my time with children,” he said. “They al­ways have a smile on their face and they have fun with whatever they do.”

(In a previous article, I reported that Thor was injured on a Saturday game a few weeks ago. He shared good news that he’ll be back sooner than expected.)

The student volunteers also help during tournaments. They take on running the score­boards and pair up with an adult to referee games, along with wherever they can be of assistance.

“For Saturday mornings or our tourna­ments, we wouldn’t be able to function with­out our volunteer high school players or our varsity coaches stepping in and asking what we need help with,” said Sarah. “They will find people to help.”

Thank you to those who make the Hoops Club program a possibility for the youth of the area. Your efforts secure hope that Two Harbors will have basketball team repre­sentation for all ages and opportunities for growth for years to come.

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