Beaverton kids pick up finer points of basketball at Trail Blazers' clinic
by: Jaime Valdez Former Trail Blazers great Arvydas Sabonis slam dunks a basketball Veronica Decker, 6, fired toward the hoop at Eichler Park.

Alma Leon, 13, learned how to dribble.

Her brother, Alex Leon, 11, learned the proper way to shoot a basketball and the 'secret I.D.' of Portland Trail Blazers' mascot, Blaze the Trail Cat.

Marco Garcia, 10, picked up 'different ways' to shoot the ball.

And Don Elwell - a self-described 'jester and camp director' of the Trail Blazers Hoops Clinic - was reminded how eager kids are to learn new things and how fun it can be to drum up enthusiasm for community involvement.

Elwell was one of several Blazers coaches and staff members helping kids learn and enjoy summer fun Thursday morning at Eichler Park, adjacent to Spencer House Apartments on Farmington Road.

The two-hour Blazers Hoops Clinic was one in a summer series the Blazers organization sponsors in partnership with Community Partners for Affordable Housing, a nonprofit agency that provides affordable housing for lower-income residents in Washington County and Southwest Portland.

In addition to coaches and staff, the clinic featured demonstrations from former Blazers stars Arvydas Sabonis and Antonio Harvey, who serves as the team's announcer.

'We have a special friend,' Harvey proclaimed to the 65 children gathered on the court as he introduced Blaze the Trail Cat, bearing special prizes.

'Go Blazers!' the children screamed.

'That's what I'm talking about!' Harvey said, nodding in approval.

Taking a break from leading the children ages 7 to 13 in various ball-driven drills, exercises and relays on the sultry August morning, Elwell's boyish enthusiasm also proved a perfect match for the cheerful throng of kids.

'You can see kids definitely have an interest in getting better,' he said. 'You can see that athleticism, hunger and desire in them.'

A math teacher at Madison High School in Northeast Portland, Elwell said he feels the kids' appreciation in learning from adults with whom they can relate.

'Most of the time they are very receptive,' he said. 'They love that positive adult interaction.

'The main thing with the clinic is showing people positive ways to interact with the community for the better.'

Hussein Nur, 17, a junior at Beaverton's Health and Science School, volunteers his time through the Youth Source organization, for clinics and events the Community Partners for Affordable Housing sponsors. He said he gets as much out of the activities as the participating kids.

'I just wanted to volunteer for the summer. It's pretty fun and entertaining. A lot of these kids don't get to do this a lot, so it's a pretty good thing,' he said.

The Beaverton event was the 10th clinic the team has put on this summer.

Ian Jaquiss, director of community programs with the Blazers, said the staff always looks forward to getting out in the community with the children.

'We get to come out and play basketball with all these great little kids,' he said from the sidelines of the Eichler Park basketball courts. 'It's always fun for everyone, and we always are welcomed with open arms.'

Jaquiss said he tries to coordinate the clinics with lunch programs such as the five-week summer program the Beaverton School District offers at locations such as Eichler Park.

Shannon Wilson, coordinator of the summer youth program at the Spencer House Apartments, said the clinic fits perfectly with the program's goals.

'I think it's important for kids to be connected to the community and interact with some of the coaches,' she said.

Cassandra Caputo, 12, a rising seventh-grader at Fowler Middle School, said she enjoyed the program, especially fraternizing with the Blazers.

'It's a lot better than being stuck inside every day,' she said. 'It's a good way to stay active.'

Margarita Garcia, 13, an eighth-grader at North Marion Middle School, put it more succinctly.

'It's been a blast!'

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