In an effort to give youngsters around the region more opportunities to learn basketball skills and gain game experience, Brian Stevens is organizing the “Gorge Hoops Youth League,” a new youth league that will be open to kids from first through eighth grade. The first games are scheduled for early November.
Stevens is also the head coach of The Dalles High School girls’ basketball team, but the youth league is not affiliated with the school.
“The school district is not involved in this in any way,” Stevens said, adding that his motivations are basic: He wants to help young people around the Gorge improve their basketball skills, and he wants area basketball players to have the same opportunities young baseball players do.
“The reason I started this is, baseball has great infrastructure in the Gorge, and has for many decades,” Stevens said. “There are local leagues for youth that produce travel teams, and that allows them to have very competitive high school teams. None of the other sports, including basketball, has had that.”
Stevens has a unique background as a developmental coach and skill-builder for basketball players, and his expertise is far-reaching.
“I played basketball in elementary school through college,” he explained. “Since then, I’ve been working with professional trainers from college, the NBA, and European basketball. I’m not just another dad stepping up to do something for the kids. I actually have the background in this. This is what I do. It’s great to meet NBA players and learn from them and take it back here and give it to our youth.”
Stevens, who was hired to be The Dalles girls’ basketball coach in May, previously served as the girls’ head coach at Horizon Christian School in Hood River, where he helped guide the team to a district championship.
Stevens will not be running the new league all by himself. He has enlisted the help of another local basketball enthusiast, Kevin Dale. Dale served as assistant coach when Stevens was head coach at Horizon Christian, and he shares Stevens’ love for the game.
“Basketball is my passion,” said Dale, who grew up in San Diego. “I’ve played basketball since seventh grade, and played a year at Mount Hood Community College. Brian and I met playing rec ball, and stayed friends.”
Dale said the concept behind the new league is to help young people, as well as doing something to change basketball culture in the Gorge.
“It’s going to be a good opportunity for youth and camaraderie,” Dale explained. “You’ll be playing with these kids, and hopefully you’ll stay together and play while going all the way from elementary school up to high school.”
“So now, just like with baseball, we’ll have the ability to train teams that will in turn produce a better high school product,” Stevens said.
Dale agrees with the approach of building up players’ skills from a young age.
“It looks to me like future high school teams in the Gorge will be a force to reckon with,” Dale said.
About two years ago, Stevens started a company called Elite Basketball Camps, in which he and Dale organize training sessions around the West Coast to hone athletes’ basketball skills on a variety of levels.
“When I was hired as coach, one thing I wanted to bring to the table was building basketball for the Gorge. Not just The Dalles, but the whole Gorge,” Stevens explained.
Instead of individual players signing up to play, the Gorge Hoops league will create teams from various schools around the Gorge, from Goldendale to Stevenson and from Cascade Locks to Condon. The concept is for all the players on any given team to be from the same school.
“I’m having teams sign up,” he explained. “These will be school-based teams. The area encompasses 22 elementary schools and 11 middle schools. Here in The Dalles, we have four elementary schools, and they would all field their own teams. They can have as many players as they want on a team, but they must be from the same school.”
Home-schooled or Montessori kids are welcome too, but Stevens said those youngsters would need to connect with a local school and find out who has room to add them to their team.
The teams will be organized by grades, with combined first- and second-grade players; third- and fourth-grade; fifth- and sixth-grade; and seventh- and eighth-grade. There can be girls’ teams, boys’ teams, or co-ed teams.
Stevens added that a school can sign up as many teams as they have players for. As an example, say Chenowith Elementary School has 22 boys that want to participate. The players can break that number into two teams with seven players and one team with eight players, giving Chenowith three teams in the league.
The cost per team will be $300.
“So, if there are eight players on the team, the cost would be $37.50 per player,” Stevens said. “This is not a for-profit entity, it’s a community-based thing. We’re just charging the costs.”
For the first time this fall, the Gorge Hoops league will be taking the place of the basketball teams the Northern Wasco County Parks & Recreation District has organized in previous years. The parks and recreation district will still have a basketball program, but those sessions won’t begin until early January, after the Gorge Hoops Youth League’s games are completed.
“Our basketball clinics will start in early January and go through March,” said Michael Clough, recreation coordinator for the district.
According to Clough, the parks and recreation district’s offerings will focus on skill-building and scrimmages, and will be open to first-graders through sixth-graders. The participants in these month-long sessions will meet three times a week for an hour each time, and will focus on fundamentals. The cost is $30 per person for those inside the district boundaries, and $34.50 for out of district.
“We’re not getting out of it, just adding value,” Clough said. “Brian (Stevens) brings a lot to the table with his background. These are different styles of learning and it gives kids more options for learning. It’s great both can be offered, and the advantage is, kids can be in both.”
The Gorge Hoops league games will be held on Saturdays, from Nov. 4 through Dec. 16, and will be played at Wahtonka High School and The Dalles High School.
Stevens said there appears to be enthusiasm for his plan.
“The first four schools I called were South Wasco, Sherman, Dufur, and Wishram,” he said. “All four said yes.”
Registrations for the league are ongoing, with a deadline of Oct. 20.
Signup on the league’s website, gorgehoops.com, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.