PROGRAM — NYO participants focus on skills and fundamentals, which is a departure from the traditional five-on-five game play.
Herald Photo / Lucy Goad
PROGRAM — NYO participants focus on skills and fundamentals, which is a departure from the traditional five-on-five game play. Herald Photo / Lucy Goad

Members of the Northwestern Lady Tiger varsity basketball team have been playing together for several years now. Their dedication to fundamental basketball has translated into a strong showing over the last two years. Now, the Lady Tigers have locked down a number-one ranking in Class 3A basketball and a rank of sixth out of all teams in the state. 

This year, the Northwestern Youth Organization (NYO) reformatted its youth basketball program to reflect the need to focus on fundamentals, keep all players engaged, and enlist members of the high school team to mentor the next generations of athletes. 

“It started out that our high school players came in and ran our first few clinics to really get these kids excited,” said Amanda Koetter, NYO Girls Basketball Director. “It actually upped our numbers by about 25 kids, just by them coming out.”

The high schoolers helped instruct the young players on fundamentals, such as ball handling, movement, and shooting, while building relationships with the kids. In addition to the clinics, the participants were invited to participate in the home games for the girls program. Each game, four girls would be chosen to be ball girls for the team. They would be on the baseline during warm-ups, sit behind the bench, and interact with the varsity players. 

“(Head Coach) Kathie Layden has autographed pictures for each girl that gets to come out. One game they even had an autographed basketball. In turn, our little girls are kind of like their little elves. They do fun things for them in the locker room by giving them snacks or notes,” Koetter said. “Kathie wants a program. She doesn’t want just this specific dynasty. She wants it to continue on year after year and have the positive feedback. They’re a class act, and that’s what these kids are learning.”

“We love seeing the young girls at the games. Cheering on the teams and giving them a high five as they make a tunnel for them to enter the court,” Layden said. “We see lots of smiles, high fives, and fun going on. The girls really look forward to working with the young kids and they love seeing them at our games.”

The primary focus of the new format is to build fundamental skills at the earliest ages. As the game shifts and the kids get older, the emphasis on fundamentals tends to fall off. Utilizing this type of instruction will allow players to learn proper technique and make the game more enjoyable as they progress.

“The fundamentals are being stressed and worked on throughout the entire 12-week program,” Layden said. “The girls will see improvements in themselves, which will result in the desire to keep wanting to get better. The NYO program has always been such an important part of Northwestern basketball, and we are hoping to continue the tradition while strengthening the relationships between our high school program and the younger kids. ”

Layden said that it’s important for the younger kids to look up to the high school athletes as role models and that it’s important for the older kids to give back to the program they were once part of.

“We want to promote the girls basketball program as much as possible.  The high school girls help run the summer camps as well, so we wanted to build on the relationships that were formed during camp and carry it over to the school year,” said Layden. “Amanda Koetter has put in long hours making this program run smoothly this year. With all the changes that took place, it would not have been a success had it not been for her and all the parents willing to step up and help.”