On a recent weekday, more than 60 kids from across Spokane were running basketball drills under the watchful eyes of their coaches.
The Spokane Eastside Reunion Association’s summer basketball camp, now in its fourth year, has become a slam dunk at Underhill Park at Hartson Avenue and Fiske Street. Here, the hoops court is the training ground for children ages 5 to 16.
“We teach the fundamentals. That is what the camp is all about – fundamentals,” said Coach Bobby Jack Sumler, a former Spokane Community College hoops standout and Hall of Fame inductee for the Community Colleges of Spokane.
Sumler went to Lewis and Clark High School with Michael C. Brown, the president and founder of the nonprofit association that runs the camp.
“Our goal is to help underprivileged kids,” Brown said of the eight-week camp.
They go around to churches and schools to get the word out about the camp, and they’ve lined up local businesses as sponsors.
Fred Meyer, which operates a store about a half mile from Underhill Park, donated new shoes to each of the campers.
Devin Poss, 13, a basketball player at Garry Middle School, heard about the camp from his school coach, who helped him get invited.
“It’s a pretty friendly group here,” Poss said.
While the camp is organized around basketball fundamentals, there are many other subjects being taught during these morning sessions.
Values such as respect and gratitude toward others are being drilled into the kids.
When some of them were goofing off during a recent guest speaker appearance, the coaches gathered the group together and gave them an old-fashioned chewing out.
“You guys will learn how to pay attention,” Sumler told them.
Then he ordered the punishment: “Come Monday, everybody’s running. Everybody! Understand that?”
“Yes, coach,” the kids said.
The camp has rules: keep your hands to yourself, no swearing and no fighting. Three violations can get a camper expelled.
“Basketball is a vehicle to teach people to get along,” said volunteer Donnie Emerson.
As part of the program, the camp has arranged to receive free breakfasts and lunches through Spokane Public Schools.
The Second Harvest food bank showed up on a recent Thursday with fresh fruit for the basketball campers to try. Some of the kids admitted to having never eaten some of the samplings.
The Spokane Eastside Reunion Association takes its name from a community reunion picnic held in August every year at Liberty Park.
Brown said he is hoping to find more sponsors so that he can afford to pay his coaches an amount greater than the small stipend he gives them now.
The cost of the camp is $200 per child, but some scholarships are available.