This past weekend, some 162 youth basketball coaches from across Central New York gave up their Saturday for a good cause.
The coaches not only got the opportunity to develop their coaching skills; they also helped out the American Cancer Society by taking part in a clinic hosted at Cicero-North Syracuse High School and organized by former C-NS basketball coach Henry Fengler.
Fengler started the clinic about three years ago, though he’d been involved with the American Cancer Society for a number of years prior to that.
“I started working with them after my son [Keith] died of cancer,” Fengler said. “I had coached [basketball] at C-NS and the local Coaches vs. Cancer program director asked me to get a team together to play in a tournament at Le Moyne. So I did, and I got to know all of the people there, and after I retired, I went back to them and said I wanted to do something.”
Working with Tom Tathum, C-NS’ athletic director, and Brian Hayes of Coaches vs. Cancer, Fengler developed the clinic, which brings in volunteers, many of them big-name coaches, to work with youth coaches on various skills, from creating plays to building up a defense. This year’s guests included Mike Hopkins, assistant coach for Syracuse University’s men’s team; Quentin Hillsman, the women’s coach at SU; Dave Pasiak from Onondaga Community College; and Vance Walberg, an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts whose revolutionary offensive tactics were featured in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated.
Each year, more and more coaches take advantage of the opportunity. When the clinic started in 2006, 86 coaches attended; this year’s total doubles that. The clinic this year raised about $6,000 — not bad for an all-volunteer, no-budget event.
“It’s incredible the people that are willing to donate their time for a good cause,” Fengler said. “And every year, we hope it gets a little more visible so we can continue to raise awareness about cancer and what can be done for the American Cancer Society.”
But the clinic’s primary goal every year is to help coaches of youth basketball to improve their coaching skills.
“We want to help the coaches across Central New York to learn, to be stimulated and to get ready for the season,” Fengler said. “This really is for them to up their knowledge.”
Every year, Fengler said he can’t imagine topping the previous year.
“Last year, we had the women’s coach from Marist, who I’d coached at C-NS,” Fengler said. “I remember saying to the coaches, I had no idea how we were going to make it better this year, but I was sure going to try. Now this year, I’m saying the same thing.
For the future, Fengler said he hopes the clinic will continue to grow.
“I’d love to see it become the biggest in New York state,” he said, “or maybe get a sponsor. But really, I just want to continue to help coaches develop their strategy and take that back to their teams while helping the American Cancer Society.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.