The 33rd annual Spartans Basketball Camp is about much more than learning the fundamental skills of the sport.
For many, it’s the bond the young players enjoy with the camp counselors, forming memories that last a lifetime, which is what they cherish most about the event.
With 61 athletes ages 5-14 taking part in the second session of the Spartans Basketball Camp spearheaded by longtime La Cañada boys’ basketball coach Tom Hofman, attendees at La Cañada High learned basketball skills that will hopefully set the foundation for later success.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve been running this camp and I would say that varsity has been probably comprised of at least 70 percent of the kids that went to camp,” Hofman said. “It’s been fun watching them develop. When you don’t really see them until they get to high school and when you ask them if they were at camp, they say, ‘Yes.’ That’s always fun.
“We’re not really a highly intense camp. We try to teach them the fundamentals and have fun. What we do with the kids is try to expose them to basketball. You see kids every year get a little passion for the game and then they develop on their own. It’s fun to watch their improvement. Sometimes these kids will be there for eight years and it’s fun to see their improvement.”
Though Hofman opened one day of a recent session, varsity assistant coach R.T. Van Valer conducted most of the drills in the second of three sessions that will take place during the summer. Hofman, a former All-Area Boys' Basketball Coach of the Year, had to attend a summer league game later in the afternoon with his Spartans squad.
Hofman left the camp in good hands with Van Valer, who has been an assistant at La Cañada for 15 years.
“I love this camp,” Van Valer said. “I’ve been coming to this camps since I was in kindergarten, and then I was a counselor for a very long time. It really helped shape my life being a coach, but also the kind of person you want to be in the community.
“To me and some of the coaches, it’s a simple give back to the community and these kids. Especially in a world like today, you want these kids to learn how to be responsible and polite. That’s something you can learn through basketball, and people don’t think about it. You can learn that from being in a group.”
One of Van Valer’s favorite aspects about camp is seeing former and current players from the boys’ basketball program participate in youth development. One of his fondest memories was being among the “celebrities” of the 1992 CIF Southern Section championship team.
“These kids look up to a lot of these basketball players, and these are some of their role models,” Van Valer said. “For me, just being able to come back and be a role model for them is really important. That’s how I learned what I would like to believe is a good person in the community.”
Van Valer was 4 when he entered his first Spartans Basketball Camp. Hofman, whose basketball career boasts an impressive 733-221 record that included a recent trip to the CIF Southern Section Division II-A championship game last season, initially opposed the youngster’s entry because of his age. But Van Valer’s mother insisted.
“Tom told my mom that I’d get beat up by the kids. My mom said, ‘Good. He’ll be tired when he gets home,’” said a chuckling Van Valer.
The camp’s counselors ranged from former Spartans boys’ basketball players to a pair from the girls’ team. Counselors included recent CIF Division II-A final team members Jake George, Zach Feehan and Kyle Brown, former player Patrick Panoosi and girls’ squad members Emmie Lew and Alyssa Miyamoto.
“I used to come every year when I was younger, so it was cool when coach asked me to be a part of it,” said University of Arizona-bound Jake George, who took part in his second camp as counselor. “It’s cool to see them learning from the counselors and getting that hands-on experience from coach Hofman and to see what he’s like, see his expectations and come learn how it is.”
Van Valer and his counselors oversaw basic dribbling drills and took part in officiating and coaching the players in various scrimmages throughout the afternoon.
“It’s been fun,” said La Cañada Lew, a senior, who is helping out in her first camp. “I’m glad that we have more girls than the past years because when I was in camp, it was just my sister and I when I was little. Now, we have enough girls to play three-on-three.”
A handful of young girls took part in the camp, with a pair of individuals participating in the final two-on-two scrimmages.
“I’m happy that the girls are trying to learn basketball and get that experience,” said Spartans junior and first-time counselor Alyssa Miyamoto.
Among the camp attendees was 13-year-old Jack Reynolds, whose older brother, Ty, is a sophomore on the boys’ varsity basketball team. Jack was taking part in his fifth camp.
“Passing — knowing when to pass and knowing when to shoot,” Reynolds said. “That’s something I will take away from this camp. Every year, the competition has gotten harder.”
Hofman’s 6-year-old grandson Henry Stevens also took part in the camp. His favorite aspect of the gathering was playing alongside his family members.