Coaching hoops and health

Published 9:49 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Basketball is an easy draw for kids in Suffolk.

Attending class isn’t usually such a popular idea, and class each Saturday for a couple months would usually have no takers.

Tom Lewis combines basketball and a little bit of studying with the Suffolk Lady Storm in the Optima Fall Girls Basketball League. For Lewis and the Lady Storm for the last four years, helping girls learn basketball fundamentals and important health knowledge has become a successful team.

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“I get to see the result of the kids’ efforts and the result of what they put into it,” Lewis said.

“Basketball’s a big part of it, and I’m fortunate to have a group that loves to play basketball, so it makes the other part easy as far as the kids wanting to go to class before we play,” Lewis said.

The Optima Girls Basketball League’s been teaching hoops and health and safety education to girls ages 11-14 in Hampton Roads for 15 years.

Each of the seven Hampton Roads cities has a team. The teams play each Saturday with the local tournament set for late October and a regional tournament and all-star game set for Nov. 4-6 in Petersburg.

It is competitive basketball. The Lady Storm has about half its team returning from last season.

“The hardest part has been when too many kids come out to the tryouts because we do take the best 12 or 13 or so players,” Lewis said.

The local season will end with a tournament played on one Saturday and with a league champion. Rising to the opportunity to represent Suffolk versus the rest of Hampton Roads is good motivation for the Lady Storm.

“This is the hardest working group I’ve had in my years of coaching,” Lewis said. “This is the most coachable, most fun team I’ve had as far as the effort they’re putting in in practice.”

With the basketball practice coming relatively easy, time in the classroom comes each Saturday before hitting the court.

“The parents especially, and then the kids as the program goes along, appreciate the lessons and at the end of the program, the kids feel good about themselves,” Lewis said.

The student-athletes need to improve test scores throughout the classes. Medical professionals teach the course.

When Lewis started coaching the Lady Storm, he admits it was mainly about basketball.

“Now I understand a lot more what the program is doing in the community. I understand the difference it’s making in kids’ lives. So now, for us, it’s kind of a family thing now. It’s a family event with the parents and the girls,” he said.