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Final Four (year olds): A recreation program downsizes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

John Faiella maintained the full-court press for 30 minutes, and when the clock ran down he smiled as sweat beaded his face. He didn’t have to look for a scoreboard. He knew he’d won.

At 44, Faiella went head-to-head with basketball players young enough to be his sons. In fact, one was his son, J.J., age 3.

It was Week 2 for tot hoops, a new program at the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center. Recreation leagues begin with 5-year-olds. “Especially with 4-year-olds, we get a lot of calls from parents,” said Justin Blomdahl, a program specialist with Georgetown County Parks and Recreation. “This gives them a chance to learn the fundamentals.”

He and Sidney Gray, a program specialist, went to the Internet to get ideas for teaching the tots. They had five boys the first week and they double-teamed them, running through passing, dribbling and shooting drills.

“The real challenge is making it interesting,” Blomdahl said. They succeeded. Jarrod Myers, 3, just woke up from a nap before his cousin Markayla Wineglass brought him to this week’s session. He wasn’t talking, but she said he didn’t want to go home at the end of the first one.

Bryson Davis, 4, felt the same way. “He asked me every day: ‘Is it time? Is it time?’ ” his mom Lashanda Davis said.

Bryson also played tot soccer. “Everything they have, he’s going to do it,” Davis said. “He’s so quiet, maybe it will open him up a little.”

Social skills along with motor skills are a big part of the program, Gray said. He recruited Faiella for the next session because he wants to involve the rec league’s volunteer coaches. Faiella, a mortgage banker by day, coaches football and basketball.

The first thing he did was get the boys to stand with their feet apart and their hands up. The hands are up all the time, he told them, a thought that would bring a tear to the eye of many high school and college coaches. The tots are the youngest group Faiella’s worked with. “A lot of people think kids this age are too young, but they’re not,” he said.

He started by having them slide from side to side in a defensive crouch, then moved on to bounce passes. There was barely time for their attention or their feet to wander before he had cones set out and had them dribbling around them to the basket.

The free-standing baskets went up a notch from the first week, a sign that even the rec staff had underestimated the tots. “Some of them were dunking,” Gray said.

The session ended with a shooting and rebounding drill that would be familiar to players of any age. They carried it out well enough that Faiella was optimistic he will be able to have the boys playing a game by the end of the program. When that will be is uncertain. The older kids start league play and it will be tough to find court time for the tots, Gray said. But he will. “One of the main things is they see they can accomplish something,” he said. “When they understand that, they’re excited.”

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