Three Lewis-Clark State College students are getting hands-on experience in running a basketball program that has attracted more than 400 area youths as part of the USA Basketball Open Court Program.
The three Idaho natives – Heather Jensen, a senior from Parma, Lacy Goodson, a junior from Harrison, and Rory Niewenhous of Lewiston – are majoring in sport administration and are doing their internships this semester with the 12-week program.
Pete Van Mullem, an associate professor in the college’s Business Division, applied for the program and the Lewis-Clark Valley was selected as one of 10 sites in the United States to host it this year. The USA Basketball Open Court Program is a non-instructional program that encourages open play basketball to youths in a safe and fun environment. The free program allows boys and girls to participate on a weekly basis and earn participation points that can be redeemed for prizes.
The program is on Sundays at Clarkston High School with three age group sessions. The first session lasts an hour and is for ages 6-9. The other two-hour sessions are for ages 10-12 and 13-17.
Although Van Mullem oversees the program, the three students play a key role in the week-to-week operations.
“They are involved in three aspects of the program that need assistance – promotion, registration and working the sessions,” Van Mullem said. “Also each week, we sit down and talk about what adjustments we should make. What can we add to make it better? What are the things you’ve heard from parents that we can adjust or change?”
The weekly registration is perhaps the most critical function because attendees can earn participation points each Sunday. The points can be redeemed after the final week to receive a prize from a wide range of choices from USA Basketball, including basketball-related items and athletic gear and apparel.
The interns are in charge of the registration process, which includes filling out a registration form, a waiver form, and each participant signing in before entering the gym. During the week, the interns also update the attendance and scoresheet data bases so participants know how many points they have.
Because the interns run registration, Van Mullen said they have tweaked the registration process to make it smoother.
“It’s really the main role they have but this allows them to think things through,” Van Mullen said. “There are a lot of little things that you don’t think about or realize until you are doing it. This is giving them some great experience in how to run a large scale operation and make changes.”
The program, which will run through early May, has attracted more than 400 youths thus far, which is the most participants any Open Court program has had. Part of the learning process for the interns is learning how to keep the youths engaged and coming back each week.
“We want to make the experience a good one so we are always asking what can be done to make it better for the kids,” Goodson said.
The interns spend approximately eight hours on Sundays at the sessions, which includes set up and tear down. At the sessions, five zones are set up that include ball handling, passing, shooting, games (usually 3-on-3) and free play. The attendees are required to be at one of the zones, but they are free to move at any time to a different zone. In the free zone, participants can organize games or just shoot around.
Along with the three interns, nine other staff members work with the participants. All staff members went through a licensing process, which included background checks, and are certified with USA Basketball, which allows them to work with the youths.
The interns said working with the program has been a great experience and will help them down the road when they start their careers in athletics.
“This is a great opportunity to learn how to run something like this,” Jensen said. “Any experience is great but working with youth is unique. It’s sort of organized chaos but it’s a great environment as well.”
Van Mullem said he meets with the interns twice a week and tries to change the goal of what they want to accomplish each week to give the interns another challenge.
“What I have heard from them is they didn’t think it would be so involved as far as how much goes into running something like this,” Van Mullem said. “I think it opened their eyes to all the planning that goes on and all the stuff behinds the scenes. But I can tell they are enjoying the process. My goal is to give them as much ownership as possible. They see the planning that goes on and hopefully it connects back to their classes when you talk about those things.”
Most degrees at LCSC require some type of internship to give students real-life experiences. Sport administration is a co-curricular degree between the new Movement & Sport Sciences Division and the Business Division at the college.