McKay's Senior Night was a Basketball Moment to Remember

What a night for the McKay Royal Scots! They played, what I would call, "The Game of the Year". The Terrorizing Trio ... Andre Tovar's 25 points, Khyler Beach's 31 points, and Israel Garza's 21 points were a key factor in the Royal Scots accomplishing the biggest upset of the year thus far. They defeated the Sprague Olympians, 90 -83, in a double-overtime thriller! Sprague's Teagan Quitoriano, who is 6' 7" and the GVC's top power forward, scored a game high of 38 points, but that wasn't enough on McKay's senior night. Sprague had been ranked number 1 and then 2 in the state.

There was a large crowd on hand and the girls' game had just ended. As I sat there waiting for the boys' game to start, it felt like belonging to a community on the NE side of town. There were many McKay-athlete families and friends supporting the Royal Scots. This game was a "David and Goliath" story. A tall and talented team from the Southwest Hills of Salem, Oregon, had driven across town into the flatland of McKay High School, confident and determined. Sprague had a squad of great shooters ... and man, could they rebound and play defense. There was a significant height difference, McKay's tallest starter was 6' 3", which was probably Sprague's average height.

The entire McKay squad has worked hard all season, including players like junior KR and Taran Trumbly. Taran is a senior that tried out for the first time and made the team. He scored 12 points against North Salem last week. McKay is not a deep team, but the reserves help give the starting five a breather when they need it. Damien Rios, who is the backup point guard has done a remarkable job with the Scots. Levi Beaty who is the tallest player at 6' 4" has made some crucial plays for the Scots down the stretch. During practices all of the team members help their team get better -- all credit to these guys for being part of the victory against Sprague.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson and Assistant Coach Matt Espinoza have done a remarkable job with these boys, not only as basketball players, but more importantly as decent young men that will leave McKay with many life lessons learned and incentives to become decent people. I have no doubt that some of the McKay players will play college basketball, it's just the growth mindset that I've seen throughout their four years.

The coaches have done a remarkable job making adjustments since mid-season. What I have been most impressed with, is how the coaches are using each player's role on the team to help. They are now pressing when they should, and the team defense has jumped up a notch. I've never seen the five seniors as confident and full of desire like I have the last three weeks, especially in the Sprague game - it has been priceless.

 Khyler Beach scores on Teagan. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Khyler Beach scores on Teagan. Photo by Kent Brewer.

When the game started, Khyler Beach, who is normally an excellent free-throw shooter, missed two free shots. Sprague took an early lead and at the end of the first quarter McKay trailed 17 - 22. Jailen Hammer, from Sprague, knocked down two threes and put the Olympians up. McKay was battling and hanging in there, but with Teagan underneath, sometimes double-teaming didn't matter, the kid is big. At halftime McKay trailed, 28 -35. That was okay, they were only 7 points down.

In the second half, Andre Tovar and Khyler Beach's 3-point-shooting frenzy combined with Israel's gifted abilities to squeeze through Sprague's defense, kept the Royal Scots close at the end of the third quarter, but McKay continued to trail, 46 - 54. At the beginning of the fourth quarter Sprague went on an 8 - 0 run to stretch the score at 52 - 64 -- now McKay was down by 12 points. McKay made a few mental errors, but I've watched these boys long enough to know that they never quit, they just come out and fight harder. Head Coach Dean Sanderson called a few time outs and regrouped the team.

 Andre Tovar trying to handle 6' 7" Teagan. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Andre Tovar trying to handle 6' 7" Teagan. Photo by Kent Brewer.

With five minutes left in the game, McKay's press was dominating, and fans finally understood why these boys press when they need to. Drioji Joel, Ryan Bangs, Khyler, Andre, and Israel all have amazing quickness and the ability to steal and score within seconds. It happened that night and all of a sudden, McKay was within two points, 66 - 68, with the ball and 28.7 seconds remaining in the game.

After the inbound, Sprague was playing some tight defense and a scramble took place with several passes executed. Khyler Beach ended up with the basketball and drove down the baseline. Time was running out and with 6' 7" Teagan ready to block Khyler's shot, it wasn't going to happen because the pass went to Israel Garza, who scored with a nice floater down the middle and the game went into OT!

 Ryan Bangs taking it to the basket. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Ryan Bangs taking it to the basket. Photo by Kent Brewer.

In the first overtime it seemed like McKay would put it away taking a 4-point lead, but Teagan Quitoriano had something else in mind when he hit a huge three-point bucket, and then an exchange of free throws from both sides tied it up again. In the second OT, it was great to see Ryan Bangs win the tip against Teagan. Again, solid and intense defense from both teams, desperation shooting, and the coaches pacing the sidelines. Towards the end of the 5-minute-double OT, Teagan again hits a huge three-pointer. McKay's confidence and believing in themselves defied the predictable result with winning the game, 90 - 83!

 Drioji Joel knocks down some crucial free throws. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Drioji Joel knocks down some crucial free throws. Photo by Kent Brewer.

The crowd stormed the court as the players walked over to the student section and the celebration began at McKay High School. That moment was so special for not only the school itself and the community in the NE side of town, but for five seniors on the team that had played together since the sixth grade. It was a dream come true.

 Israel Garza scores to send the game into OT! Photo by Kent Brewer.

Israel Garza scores to send the game into OT! Photo by Kent Brewer.

Please go to my blog at www.davidespi.com and just search on the names of Ryan Bangs, Andre Tovar, Drioji Joel, Israel Garza, or Khyler Beach. They all have a remarkable story and have been through adversity overcoming obstacles. They have formed a friendship that will last a lifetime. In the sixth grade they lost a dear friend, Isaac Wayne Arzate. Isaac collapsed at basketball practice one day and eventually died of heart complications. That made a stronger bond with the five boys. Ryan Bangs wears Isaac's number in his honor, which was 31. I'm pretty sure they had Isaac planted in their hearts throughout this important game against an extremely great team like Sprague. RIP Isaac, the boys gotcha.

With two games left in the regular season, McKay's record is 10 - 12 overall, and 5 - 9 in league play. Previous to the win against Sprague, McKay lost some nail-biters, against McMinnville, 75 -77, and McNary, 59 - 60. Because McKay is in a tough conference with highly ranked teams, well, this means they could get a play-in game and a possible playoff birth. OSAA Poll ranks McKay at number 32, Colley Poll ranks McKay at number 31. Sprague is now ranked number 3 in the state. If McKay can stay in the 31 - 34 ranking, it's likely they will play in post season.

Wishing the best for the Royal Scots. The next two games are crucial. I'm hoping to see everyone at the West Albany game on Tuesday. I know it's an away game, however, the boys sure could use our support on an away game. It's a 37-minute drive -- not too far. Go Scots!

RJ Veliz is Leading Blanchet Boys Basketball to Higher Heights

Any school that has a kid like RJ Veliz enrolled is fortunate. Blanchet Catholic School is in the 3A PacWest Conference and resides in Salem, Oregon. The school has high standards for academics, sportsmanship, and conduct.

RJ Veliz (Raul III) was a three-sport athlete playing football, basketball, and baseball his freshman year. He made history at Blanchet by being the first freshman to ever become a varsity starter for all three sports. Now as a junior at Blanchet, he focuses on two sports, basketball and football. The hectic schedule was too much for him with club basketball in the summers, so he eliminated baseball. This was a great move by RJ, because multiple-sport athletes run a high risk of coming down with a stress fracture.

RJ is a 6' 2" point guard and wears number 12 -- he has become a leader for the Blanchet Cavaliers averaging 28 points per game. RJ has helped his team become the seventh-ranked team in the state of Oregon. His dad, Raul Jr., is the assistant varsity basketball coach at Blanchet. His mom, Marie, is a full supporter as well. He has two younger brothers, Tomás and Cruz, and an older sister, Katarina, who attends University of Portland.

"When my dad was playing basketball years ago, he wore number 12. I always looked up to him, so I've always picked number 12 to wear," RJ said.

Turning back the clock, RJ attended St. Luke's Catholic School in Woodburn, Oregon, from kindergarten to seventh grade. He was always a shy kid among his peers and didn't talk to many unless he got to know them well. Playing sports for organized teams since the third grade he found comfort in talking more to his teammates. Still today he is a quiet kid. One might say that he only speaks of substance and is always thinking.

As a young kid, RJ was raised behind Woodburn High School where his dad once attended. It was a middle-income-class neighborhood. That's where he would hang out with his group of friends playing all three sports and learning many skills from his dad. He became one of the best athletes in all three sports -- he had a driven passion to get better at all skill sets.

"I think just being around my Grandpa and my dad helped a lot. They gave me the inspiration to start playing sports. I used to watch my dad play basketball all the time. He was so talented and could really shoot the basketball. He tried walking on at the University of Oregon in his days, but just missed making the team," RJ said.

RJ has a God-given gift on how he fundamentally handles the basketball and on how he consistently shoots it with precise form. He has the ability to drive to the basket finishing a lay-in, or to drive and then stop taking a jumper. He is a three-point shooter and a heck of a distributor to his teammates. I don't know what coach in this world would not want a 6' 2" point guard that is so versatile. RJ is the full-package deal and Blanchet School is very fortunate to have him attending there.

"The work ethic that my Grandpa Raul Sr. and my dad displayed while I was growing up helped me make a decision to work hard at getting better. I was blessed to have a dad that instilled good values in me. When he was in high school he would get up at 5:00 a.m. to go work in the fields, and then after that, he'd go to school. My grandpa never had the opportunity to play sports despite the fact that he loved sports -- always talking about them. Grandpa had to work in the fields to help support his family, so sports were out of the question for him. If it wasn't for them, I would not have the opportunities I have now. I'm blessed to have a grandpa and dad that support me the way they do," RJ said.

When RJ was in the third grade they had a basketball clinic for his birthday party. That day he became part of "The Hoop", a club basketball team that became a tournament-traveling team in major AAU tournaments all over the nation. Jaden Nielsen-Skinner, who currently plays at South Salem, became RJ's teammate. They have shared the point guard position for many years during the summers.

RJ grew up playing against some of the best players on the west coast. Evina Westbrook is like a sister to him, she was always at The Hoop working on her game. The Hoop is a basketball facility in Salem. The years of playing basketball around great players helped develop RJ even more.

"I remember during the summers, my mom and dad would drop me off at The Hoop. I would play for five or six hours. I had a passion for the game - it was fun and time went by fast. My social life was with my sports friends," RJ said.

His AAU team, The Hoop, played in many tournaments and against some of the top athletes in the nation. The coach was normally, James Johnson, who played at Portland State University. His brother, Dane Johnson, who played for Western Carolina, would also help with coaching. Rounding out the coaching staff was their dad, Price Johnson. Price would reward his players. If any of them made 5,000 three-pointers by the end of the summer, he would take them to the Oregon State Fair.

"I learned extra skill sets from Coach James and Coach Dane. They both played college basketball. I'm thankful for being part of their team. I have played on this summer-club team every summer," RJ said.

The Hoop tournament team was doing so well that Team Fast (based out of West Linn, Oregon) asked them to be a part of their organization. So for two years they became Team Fast. The difference was the sponsorship opportunity -- it helped cut down on costs.

When RJ was promoted to the eighth grade he had some decisions to make. To stay in the Woodburn area to eventually go to the same high school as his dad attended, or to attend Blanchet Catholic School in Salem. His sister, Katarina, was attending Blanchet and was fitting in well with the academics and the student body.

"It was a tough decision for me because I looked up to my dad and knew he attended Woodburn High School. I also had different groups of friends with different sports teams. I wanted to try out Blanchet for my eighth-grade year to see how it would go since my sister was going there and all. My dad was okay with it," RJ said.

Change is always a challenge for any kid, and for RJ this change was untested. Being shy and coming into a new school was definitely an obstacle for RJ to overcome. After his eighth-grade year he was embraced by the student body that made him feel comfortable. He made new friends in his new sports teams. When he became a freshman things started balancing out with his new school of high academic standards and conduct.

"Yeah, I definitely had to make some sacrifices along the way. Losing time with my friends in the Woodburn area was tough. Playing varsity as a freshman on all three sports was difficult with more sacrifices -- I lost time with my friends from eighth grade. On a positive note, I made new friends with many upperclassmen, some seniors as well," RJ said.

RJ became the starting quarterback for the Cavaliers as a freshman. He also became the starting point guard in basketball. RJ had played many years injury free -- that doesn't happen too often. As a junior this year, 2017-2018, his football team was playing against the Scio Loggers. RJ took a blow to the front of the knee causing a slight tear on his MCL (medial collateral ligament).

"I just remember feeling bad for my team. We were doing great winning all of our games. Scio was a tough team and we were down 14 - 21. We had a chance to win, but when I went down with the knee injury, it really hurt. We ended up losing 14 - 51," RJ said.

It was difficult for RJ not to play, he had to sit out the rest of the football season. Recovering from a knee injury can be frustrating, since you really don't know what the end result could be. RJ remained positive -- he had faith that things would be okay.

As time went by RJ eventually recovered and now is playing basketball at almost 100 percent. He has led Blanchet to a 14 - 3 record so far. In league play they are 6 - 0.

RJ has two favorite moments while playing basketball during his lifetime. One was in the eighth grade when his tournament team was playing against the Oakland Soldiers. Oakland had a highly-national-ranked player, Kyree Walker (now committed to Arizona State), who was guarding RJ -- in his face the entire game. They were down by 3 with only a few seconds left in the game. Jaden Nielsen-Skinner was dribbling the ball and passed it to RJ. He shot the basketball over Kyree and made it sending the game into overtime! They went on to win the game in OT.

The other favorite moment came recently in his junior year at Blanchet. They were playing Sweet Home, Oregon, in the Stayton Tournament. RJ scored his all-time high of 43 points setting a school record. And what was most impressive was shooting 7 for 10 from three-point land, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.

 RJ Veliz taking a 3-point shot from beyond the arc. Photo provided by Veliz family.

RJ Veliz taking a 3-point shot from beyond the arc. Photo provided by Veliz family.

"It was just one of those games where every time I shot the ball I knew it was going in. It was a great feeling and I felt like I could have shot more and made more that night," RJ said.

RJ is the type of athlete that has captivating athleticism. His composure in a game is always calm while adamantly being aggressive. He's always thinking about his teammates and how his playing can make them better.

His mom, Marie, has been a full supporter for RJ and his family. She attends every game and video records them. She does everything around their house and RJ's appreciates that she makes sure his uniform is always washed and clean.

"My mom is so supportive. She's been there at every game watching me. She does all of the little things for our family that are so big - I love her so much and am blessed to have a mom like her," RJ said.

 RJ with his family. Photo provided by Veliz family.

RJ with his family. Photo provided by Veliz family.

While RJ is excelling in basketball, he always tries to put God first in his life. He started a club at school called, Students for Change. This club is about serving God by getting students together to help people. They often rake leaves for people that are less fortunate. Sometimes they prepare sack lunches for the homeless, or visit the elderly.

RJ is a scholar athlete, he works hard at his academics. He maintains a 4.0 GPA while carrying a few AP courses -- not an easy task to do. He is an all-around positive example for any kid in school.

"Sometimes I think about why I've come so far in many areas. I keep going back to the many times where I asked my dad if he could take me to workout. He was always there for me. He never forced me to play sports -- I wanted to play sports. He taught me many things about the game and life in general. He gave me opportunities that not many kids get. I'm truly thankful to have a dad like him," RJ said.

Raul Jr. was hired to be the Blanchet assistant coach and now sits alongside his son during games and coaches him during practices. While the family still lives in Woodburn, the days are long with practices and activities, and then the commute home every day. I was able to catch up with his dad.

"RJ is a caring, hardworking, and dedicated kid. He has always loved the game and we have seen his passion at a very young age. He always wanted to play against older kids, even though they were bigger. RJ works extremely hard on the court an in the classroom. He has been fortunate to have worked with people just as dedicated as he is. He truly cares about his teammates and about making the right plays to help the team win. RJ has always put God first in his life and in our family. It is such a blessing to see the young and kindhearted man he has become," Raul Jr. said.

RJ has a couple of colleges already expressing interest in him and he's only a junior in high school ... University of Portland and Seattle University.

I'm wishing RJ, who has become an overachiever, the best this season in his basketball adventure with the Blanchet Cavaliers -- his future is bright.

RJ, What is your short-term goal?

I want to help our team make it to the state tournament and win the title. I would love to repeat Conference Player of the Year and win State Player of the Year.

What is your long-term goal?

I'd like to play college basketball at a Division I or II level. And then I'd like to study to either be a trainer or a sports journalist.

What are your hobbies other than sports?

I like hiking, my club (Students for Change), and writing.

Who is your favorite NBA team?

The Lakers - I've always like Kobe Bryant.

What advice can you give young athletes?

Work hard. Never think you can't do something. If you set your mind to doing something then the only person that can control that is you. Dedication can develop you to be that great player -- being efficient all the time.

Happy Birthday to Coach Noza, the Founder of Salem Hoops Project

On December 22, we will be celebrating my son's birthday. Selfless is an understatement when I think about my son, Matt Espinoza. He acquired his nickname "Noza" back when he was in high school. Wow, where have the years gone?

Coach Noza attended several grade schools in the NE Salem area back in the 1990s. Scott, Hayesville, and Yoshikai Elementary. He was one of the first kids to experience year-round school at Yoshikai. Later, we had a new home built in the McNary High School district. He attended Whiteaker Middle School and later enrolled at McNary High School, which had an attendance of over 2,000 students. He helped the 2002-2003 Celtics finish fourth at the OSAA 6A Basketball State Tournament. He played with a record-setting team and earned his way to play basketball on a full scholarship at Southwestern Oregon Community College and then was recruited by Southern Oregon University to play for the Raiders in Ashland, Oregon.

Trust me when I tell you it was not an easy task, he had to work for what he got. Noza was only 5' 7" as a freshman in high school -- he almost got cut from the team. As the years went by, I don't know anyone that worked as hard as he did on his skill set, weight training, diet, etc. By the time he was a senior, his body had stretched out to 6' 4". All of his skills came together and he was a strong contributor playing under Jim Litchfield at McNary High School.

Under Head Coach Joel Perkins at Southwestern Oregon C. C., out of nowhere, he resonated through hard work, as the three-point sharpshooter of the NWAACC (Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges). In 2006, he helped the Lakers advance to the NWAACC Championships. While at SWOCC, he attracted attention from several Division II and III Universities, Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana; Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon; Western Oregon University in Monmouth, OR; Willamette University in Salem, OR, and a few other universities from California.

In 2006 he signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Southern Oregon University under Brian McDermott. What a blessing that decision was. Noza went on to help the SOU Raiders advance to the NAIA National Championship Tournament in Point Lookout, Missouri. He set two three-point shooting records while at SOU and he received the 2007 Daktronics-NAIA All-American Scholar Athlete of the Year Award. The last term of college he maintained a 4.0 GPA.

In one of the Ashland newspaper articles his head coach was interviewed. I knew Matt was a great shooter, but to hear words from his college coach, well, it was definitely a special moment in my life. I felt blessed and humbled to be his dad.

"He is the best three-point shooter I've had in my tenure of coaching," Brain McDermott said.

Matt went on to play two years of minor-league professional basketball. He had a scheduled tryout with the Portland Trailblazers, but when they recruited, Greg Oden, they cancelled the tryout.

The first book I wrote, in 2008, was about my son, "Noza: A True Basketball Success Story". I wrote it to encourage parents, and to encourage young basketball players (because of what Noza went through) to not give up. Noza overcame so many obstacles. I guess that's why I felt the passion to write the book.

When I witnessed what Noza did, I made a decision to become an author. This story was worth writing for me -- a passion. I guess I would have to say that he inspired me to become an author. And now he's always giving me writing tips and serves as my content editor at times.

Coach Noza has a college degree in communications journalism; a masters degree in education; certified as a strength and conditioning trainer; math certificate for teaching; certified in weightlifting training, etc. He's always learning and expanding his knowledge in many areas.

In 2008, Noza became the assistant coach at McNary and then the head coach at McNary for two years before landing a job at McKay and becoming the assistant varsity coach. He now teaches at Richmond Elementary and coaches at McKay High School.

 Matt Espinoza coaching at McKay with Dean Sanderson. Photo by David Espinoza.

Matt Espinoza coaching at McKay with Dean Sanderson. Photo by David Espinoza.

This is a brief description of my son's journey in basketball and accomplishments. I'm sure he has done more that I don't know about yet. I usually find out sooner or later. Just recently he started a Player's Podcast to help young athletes improve by hearing sound advice from different coaches, athletes, teachers, etc. He interviews the people and does all the work to put the sound clip together.

I know that as a dad I did the best I could to set an example for him and to teach him life skills the best I knew how. To tell you the truth, I have learned more from him throughout the years. It's humbling to say that he is my son. I'm so proud of him for all the work he does for others.

During the off-season, you can find him at the gym working with his young basketball players, two at a time (whatever the rules are), at McKay High School. He also directs basketball clinics in different towns.

In 2012 my son approached me about an idea he had for the Salem community. He wanted to give back to the community and to provide free basketball skill-set training for kids that couldn't afford expensive camps or private lessons. We talked about it for a bit. I knew that it was a big commitment and something he had never done before. I asked him how I could help and I supported him on his idea. He explained a few things and I listened.  

Coach Noza founded Salem Hoops Project, a non-profit organization. If you go out to the website www.salemhoopsproject.org , you'll get a better description of what this program is all about. Coach Noza is the executive director and trainer, I'm the director of operations, and Jordan Carter is the treasurer.

 Coach Noza, the founder of Salem Hoops Project. This was at a clinic in Salem, Oregon.

Coach Noza, the founder of Salem Hoops Project. This was at a clinic in Salem, Oregon.

Noza organizes the basketball clinics, sets up the clinic plans, notifies the volunteers needed, answers questions for parents, and does many more things for the program. He tries to schedule them when the McKay High School gym is available during the fall, winter, spring, and summer. If you register your child through the website, you will get an email informing you when the next clinic or clinic series are taking place. The times can vary, so it's important that you receive his emails.

Matt Espinoza married his wife, Bethany, in 2014. She has been a blessing to him and to all of us in the family. She is an understanding wife to him and supports him. She was an athlete in high school and at George Fox University, so they compliment each other well.

I caught up with Bethany and asked her to share a few words about Matt. 

Bethany says, "Oh my goodness, where do I begin. So many people know Matt as a coach, teacher, mentor, etc. For me, I get to see him day in and day out as husband and best friend. So, a few things about Matt that I am sure others see as well are, selflessness; humility; servant's heart; disciplined; wise; gentle and kind; creative; loyal; peaceful; consistent, and so many more. Matt consistently is bettering himself in leadership and other things not for his own benefit, but to help others. He will never shine light on himself for any of it. He just simply wants to love and serve people well. He lives out his walk with Jesus in his actions on a daily basis and it's so fun to be part of it all! I guess what I'm trying to get at, is that it's such a blessing to be married to someone with this level of integrity. Matt is the kind of man who is unabashedly himself and isn't afraid to live a life of kindness, selflessness, and gentleness. He goes above and beyond for others and takes risks so others may flourish and know they are seen and not just an afterthought. I just love him so much and am thankful I get to be his wife!"

 Bethany and Matt. Photo provided by Bethany Espinoza.

Bethany and Matt. Photo provided by Bethany Espinoza.

I want to wish my son a happy birthday on December 22nd, and I want to tell him how proud I am of the young man he has become. Thank you, Coach Noza, for all the things you do for me, your family, and for our community. You display unconditional love in every way possible. I love you son, God bless you. 

 

Khyler Beach Lifts McKay Boys Basketball to Start the Season

I never knew of any kid not getting tired in four quarters of basketball. When I think of Khyler Beach, I think of a young man that runs like a thoroughbred. The athleticism and positive work ethic is an understatement.

Khyler stands at 6' 2" and wears number 15. He says he's always liked number 4, but last year's Noah Tavera had that number already, so he just stuck with 15. Khyler is McKay's leading scorer thus far, averaging 20.6 points the first five games of the season. His game highs were 28 against West Salem and 28 against Lakeridge.

Khyler grew up in the beautiful northwest and in the Capital City, Salem, Oregon. His parents are Duwane and Tiffany Beach. He has two brothers, Kameren and Treyson, and his sister, Kiahnna. He also has two stepsisters, Katie and Kyra, and a stepbrother, Mikey.

He attended Yoshikai Elementary School and Stephens Middle School. Khyler grew up in a middle-income neighborhood. He lived next door to Ryan Bangs who is one of his current teammates. They eventually joined Andre Tovar, Israel Garza, and Drioji Joel, who all currently have played together since 6th grade.

Khyler was inspired to start playing basketball watching his dad who always had sports on, whether TV or an outing at any game. He also watched his older brother, Kameren, who played basketball.

"My dad watched a lot of sports, it seemed like he always had some game on. My brother Kameren played basketball before I did, I wanted to be like him, so I picked up the basketball and never looked back," Khyler said.

There was one piece of the puzzle that gave Khyler the motivation to succeed beyond measure. The five seniors this year at McKay had a player that was a big part of their lives back in the sixth-grade, Isaac Wayne Arzate. Khyler met Isaac at recess one day and became best friends with him. They started playing basketball together and eventually ended up on the same Skyball-League team.

"Isaac became a close friend. I was always at his house. I'd say I was at his house more than my own house. We had so much fun together. And then it got to where he was inviting me to stay for dinner regularly," Khyler said.

Khyler was about to face something that was life-changing and emotionally heart-pulling. It was during a middle-school-basketball practice that Isaac collapsed with a heart attack. The paramedics were called and within ten minutes they were performing CPR on Isaac. They miraculously revived him.

"I was shocked. I had never seen anything like that before. I was scared and worried for Isaac. I saw the paramedics perform CPR on him. I felt so helpless watching my friend in that situation," Khyler said.

Isaac was a strong kid that bounced back and willed himself to continue after he recovered. During baseball season his life came to an end -- it was sad for the group of boys that were close friends with him.

Khyler struggled emotionally and had his friend on his mind every day. Sports was medicine for Khyler, it gave him a way to escape his thoughts while physically exerting himself on the basketball court. That year his Skyball team managed to make it to the championship game, but failed to win it. During his 7th-grade and 8th-grade years his team won both Skyball championship games. They proudly accepted those wins with Isaac in mind.

Khyler had one other incident that slowed him down a bit. During his 8th-grade tryouts, he collided with another player. The player's knee smacked into Khyler's femur, the bone that runs from the hip to the knee. The bone was broken and Khyler was out for several weeks. With his competitiveness and playing to win for his friend, Isaac, it was more painful for him to not play basketball.

"I think what got me through all of the hardships were my parents, my friends, and my teammates. They gave me so much support. Sports played a big role for me and when I wasn't injured it was a great way to escape, but when I was injured, I relied on my friends and family to help get me through tough times," Khyler said.

Khyler eventually healed and was about to embark into McKay High School, a diverse school with over 2,000 kids enrolled in NE Salem. Khyler didn't know what to expect. Sometimes a kid can have a lot of athleticism, but in basketball, if you don't have the necessary skills to play, you won't cut it.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson took one look at Khyler while trying out as a freshman. His intentions were not to cut Khyler because he had watched him play before. But with his poor work ethics, it would have been an option had he not seen him play before. After his freshman year during the summer league, Khyler started working hard to improve himself. When Coach Sanderson saw Khyler play during the summer he was convinced that this kid could possibly play on the varsity team.

During his sophomore year he played on the varsity team. Khyler did not want to play on the varsity team, he didn't feel he was ready, but did what was asked of him. He went to Coach Noza and asked if he would work with him on some skill sets.

Khyler immediately started showing up to all of the open-gym workouts during the off-season with Coach Noza. Khyler had terrible shooting form and other skill-set issues that simply would not cut it at the higher levels of high-school ball.

"Coach Noza worked with me several summers. After my sophomore year, Noza perfected my three-point-shooting form. I worked as hard as I could whenever the gym was open, whether ball-handling, footing, or shooting," Khyler said.

 Khyler Beach hits a big shot! Photo by Kent Brewer.

Khyler Beach hits a big shot! Photo by Kent Brewer.

Khyler's shooting improved drastically and during his junior year he became one of the top shooters along with Josiah Castillo. He had a remarkable junior year helping the Royal Scots, they missed the playoffs by only one game. He was named to the All-League Second Team in the GVC (Greater Valley Conference). He and his four teammates, Andre, Drioji, Ryan, and Israel all gained valuable experience playing together on the varsity team.

"Khyler started getting serious about improving after his sophomore season. He takes advantage of every opportunity he can to get in that gym. And it has been paying off for him this season," Coach Matt Espinoza said. 

This year Khyler has led his team in scoring and with the help from the other four teammates, he doesn't have that pressure of needing to be the only scorer. Israel hit 32 points against Forest Grove, and Andre hit 29 points against North Salem. Ryan who plays forward knocked down several threes against Forest Grove and West Salem. And then McKay's point guard, Drioji, well, watch out for him. The Royal Scots have started their season with a record of 5 - 1.

In the 2017-18 season, Khyler has already earned the Statesman Journal All-Mid Valley Boys Basketball Award, and Athlete of the Week Award.

"Khyler has always had talent. He has grown tremendously because of his maturity and willingness to work hard at developing his skill work. He had a huge game against West Salem, which is a top team in the state. Then he really struggled to shoot the ball against Forest Grove, however, he had 9 deflections and 8 rebounds to offset his poor-shooting night. That's the sign of a really good player, which Khyler has become," Head Coach Dean Sanderson said.

 Khyler flashes by a Willamette defender. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Khyler flashes by a Willamette defender. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Off the court, Khyler enjoys helping out at Salem Hoops Project, a non-profit program that helps kids with basketball skill-sets. He's also quick to help out a teammate during a game or during practices. Khyler volunteers as a counselor for the Yoshikai outdoor-school program.

Khyler is a kid that has incredible work ethic. This year he was one of the best receivers in the GVC for his football team. In basketball he works hard during the off-season and during the season. You can find Khyler shooting forty-foot shots during practice water breaks.

"This year has been bittersweet, I think about Isaac a lot, like every game we step on that court. I want him to be there. I miss him as some of our teammates do as well. We used to talk about the future when we were in grade school. We'd talk about when we would be playing high-school basketball ... it's tough to know that he's not on the basketball court with us," Khyler said.

RIP Isaac Wayne Arzate.

Khyler's academics, well, he maintains a 3.5 GPA and is looking to improve it to 3.8. He takes a few AP classes and finds time to study during school. He never likes to take homework home.

So far, Dixie State has expressed interest in Khyler. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more colleges expressing interest before the season is over.

I caught up with his mom, Tiffany Beach. She does not miss any of his games, even if she has to drive four or five hours or stay in a hotel. We appreciate parents like Tiffany.

 Tiffany, Khyler, and Duwane after the Forest Grove win. Photo by David Espinoza.

Tiffany, Khyler, and Duwane after the Forest Grove win. Photo by David Espinoza.

"Great kid from start to finish. His grade-school teacher, Mrs. Campos, said, 'Whatever you're doing with Khyler needs to be bottled and sold.' I feel very proud to be his mom. Originally he started out getting into football. But, while becoming friends with Isaac and playing basketball with him, Khyler became a basketball player and fell in love with the sport. As a parent, I have to say that I'm very proud of him and the young man that he's become. I don't like to miss any of his games -- they are my priority," Tiffany said.

I want to wish Khyler and his team the best this year. The Royal Scots play a fast-pace game and are fun to watch. I encourage you to come out to their games.

Khyler, what are your short-term goals?

Make it to the playoffs and improve my GPA.

What are your long-term goals?

I want to play basketball at the next level. I want to major in Business.

What are your hobbies?

I like sports, video games, and Sci-Fi movies.

Who is your favorite NBA team?

Blazers!

What advice do you have for young kids that want to accomplish what you did?

Don't let other people tell you what you can't do. If you believe you can do it then work hard to do it. But it's important that you work hard at it. You can't expect it to come to you ... go after it.

Andre Tovar is a Resilient Story for McKay Boys Basketball

Three-point shooting is not an easy thing to master for any high-school kid. Many kids think they are three-point shooters, but really, they just try.

In NE Salem, at McKay High School, there are five senior boys that have played together since the sixth grade, Andre Tovar, Ryan Bangs, Israel Garza, Drioji Joel, and Khyler Beach. They were not great three-point shooters coming in as freshmen, especially Andre Tovar who would drive to the basket because he lacked the three-point-shooting skill. Over the years these athletes have developed a chemistry on the basketball court, not only on defense, but also on offense.

 Five seniors that have played together since 6th grade. Photo by Javier Gonzales.

Five seniors that have played together since 6th grade. Photo by Javier Gonzales.

Andre Tovar is one of the reasons the Royal Scots have started their season 3 - 0. His three-point shooting has resonated to a different level. Against Lakeridge he had 23 points, against Willamette High School he had 21 points, and against North Salem he had 29 points (his career high). Teams can forget about double-teaming him, because now there's Khyler, Drioji, Israel, and Ryan ... they can also score from behind the arc.

Andre is rare amongst Hispanics, who normally have large families (not to be stereotypical, just honest) and are from the West Coast or the South. Not many people know that Andre is an only child in his family. His dad is Recardo and his mom is Azucena. Another fact, he is from Mount Airy, North Carolina. Andre lived there until he was five-years old, then his family packed up and moved to Oregon -- they drove the entire way. Andre's uncle has a business here in Oregon, West Coast Metal Business. Recardo joined his brother and still works for him.

Andre was inspired by his dad to start playing basketball at an early age. Recardo was a great basketball player during his high school days. Andre's uncles also played basketball, one even tried out for the University of Texas Longhorns -- just falling short of making the team.

"It was crazy, my dad bought me a little hoop and handed me the basketball. He didn't tell me what to do or anything. I just picked up the ball and started shooting at the basket," Andre said.

Andre was raised in the life of lower-income neighborhoods. He was never at a place long enough to make friends. When they arrived in Oregon he attended Weddle Elementary School for one year, then his family moved across town and he enrolled into Auburn Elementary. It was there that he met Drioji Joel, one of the five seniors now. It was a breath of fresh air to have a friend like Drioji.

"It was a rough time for me -- we were always moving. My friends were my parents and my cousins. When I met Drioji at Auburn Elementary, it gave me a self-esteem uplift. We got along well and we could relate to each other playing sports," Andre said.

Andre is a shy kid who is slowly growing into his social atmosphere. He's always smiling and has a positive outlook. It didn't start out that way though. When he enrolled at Waldo Middle School, he fell into a slight depression because of a horrific episode his family went through. His dad had to leave the country for two years to resolve some family issues. They were also struggling financially due to his uncle's business slowing down a bit. They were forced to sell their house after they had worked so hard to buy it. Andre and his mom moved in with his cousins.

"It was tough not having my dad around for two years. It was like a piece of me was removed. I felt really bad for my mom too -- it was sad," Andre said.

At Waldo he met Israel Garza, who was athletic as well. They became friends and joined the Skyball-League along with their teammates, Drioji Joel, Ryan Bangs, Khyler Beach, and Isaac Wayne Arzate, who were attending Stephens Middle School. Andre met these guys that became his friends. They were all sports-minded and loved basketball.

"When my family, at home, was dealing with hard times, those guys made me feel like they were my family away from home. Playing basketball with them kept my mind away from the issues at home," Andre said.

Andre was a three-sport athlete, and sometimes a four-sport athlete. In middle school he played soccer with three different elite-soccer clubs, Atlas FC, Pumas, and Everett's. He played football in middle school and was a star running back. He ran track and field setting two middle-school records, one in the 400 meters and one in the 800 meters.

Though Andre faced many obstacles growing up, there was one that put him in a downhearted feeling emotionally. Andre became friends with Isaac Arzate. Isaac played the post position for the Skyball team. Andre played the same position.

"When I met Isaac we became good friends, I really enjoyed being around him. He was the big guy on our team. I thought to myself, 'I finally met someone that I can hang out with.' We bonded quickly and spent time joking around and having all kinds of fun. We had a lot in common," Andre said.

One day, at basketball practice, Isaac collapsed. He had a heart attack. And then later he recovered a little and continued with baseball. He willed himself fighting back to start playing sports again. It was during baseball that he eventually lost his life.

"When Isaac collapsed in practice, there were a lot of emotions, I was freaked out. I don't really know why these things happen. Our whole team had a difficult time watching our teammate and friend go through this," Andre said.

The team went on to win two Skyball-League Championships, and Andre was part of that journey. And again, his role was mainly driving to the basket because he could not shoot outside very well.

It was time to enter high school, and Andre's family moved to the West Salem area. His mom was having to drive him over the bridge every day for school. It was hard for her. Andre wanted to continue playing sports at West Salem, but he didn't feel like he was good enough to make the football team or the basketball team. He was pretty thin and not very tall, these were only two reasons for his discomfort at the opposite end of town. Another reason was his teammates from Waldo and Stephens Middle Schools. He wanted to be around his friends and teammates from middle school.

"My mom saw that I wasn't happy. It was really my friends that I wanted to play with -- they were my family, and they were attending McKay. I felt I had a good chance to make the team there and play with them," Andre said.

To add to the countless relocations throughout his life, Andre's mom decided to move back to the NE Salem area. This would help her stay away from the West Salem bridge and Andre could be with his friends again.

Coming in as a freshman, Andre had all of his family issues in his mind and was struggling with many things -- he was headed toward a wrong path. His grades started dropping and his GPA was 2.1 all of a sudden.

Andre made the freshman-basketball team along with all of his friends from middle school. He was idling on safe mode and his grades were not important. Something unexpected happened at McKay High School.

"I saw the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She played basketball at the time. I talked to some of my friends about her, because I was really interested on finding out more about her," Andre said.

Gabby Hammack had worked extremely hard her freshman year to maintain her GPA at 4.0. She even attended part of summer school. Gabby started dating Andre shortly after. Andre saw how Gabby was so committed to her education. During summer-league practices, Gabby would go to her math class before and after.

 Andre and Gabriella (Gabby). Photo provided by Gabby.

Andre and Gabriella (Gabby). Photo provided by Gabby.

"I cared about basketball, but my grades were still my main priority. I think that small effort I made changed Andre's perspective on how you can love sports and put effort into them, but you're not going to get anywhere if you don't focus on your education as well. The following school year I made an effort to keep him on top of his school work. His parents, Azucena and Recardo, worked harder than he'll ever realize so even he has the opportunity to go to school. As the year went on, I never worried about his grades, because he was always on top of his work," Gabby said.

Andre has brought up his GPA to 3.4! Thanks to Gabby for encouraging him and helping him. She has been a huge impact in his life. Meeting his high-school sweetheart has turned his whole world around for the best. And then to add to his resilient story, his dad had returned to join his family.

"Gabby has helped me in many ways. She's smart and cares deeply about me," Andre said.

His sophomore year, Andre got together with two of his friends, Khyler Beach and Drioji. He knew his shooting form needed work. They all decided to talk to Coach Noza about skill-set training during the summers. At the time coaches could only work with two players at a time. Coach Noza developed Andre's three-point shooting form and arch during that summer.

"Coach Noza pointed out all of the errors in my shooting form. He said I wasn't getting enough arch on my shot and also my form was not correct. So, all summer we worked at improving my shooting form and my arch. By my junior year I started shooting much better. My footwork and ball-handling skills also improved. I was always driving to the basket and I never had enough confidence to shoot the three-ball. Noza helped me get that confidence. I'm thankful to Coach Noza for taking the time and helping me out," Andre said.

 Andre hits six technical fouls and one free throw in a row. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Andre hits six technical fouls and one free throw in a row. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Andre works hard anytime he's in the gym. He's found a balance with basketball and school work. He's a fast kid and has become one of the best three-point shooters in the GVC (Greater Valley Conference). His senior year is going to be one to watch.

"Andre is one of our most reliable players in terms of effort and competing. He doesn't back down from anyone. It's been great to see him have success with his shooting early on this season. He has spent a lot of time improving his footwork and shot release," Coach Noza said.

Andre's family is doing better these days, they are planning on buying a house soon. If you attend any of the boys' games, you can see both, Recardo and Azucena, watching their talented son play with the Royal Scots. They don't usually miss any of his games.

Through their hardships, Andre still found time to help his mom feed the homeless at Union Gospel Mission. He also takes time to help out underclassmen that are struggling, whether on the basketball court with plays, or during school. Andre never refuses to smile despite what he might be going through. He likes to stay positive on all aspects of life.

"One thing I can say, is that playing with Drioji, Israel, Ryan, and Khyler has been fun, and I'm so glad that I came to McKay where my friends were. Now we're all still playing together our senior year, that's really special," Andre said.

Wishing Andre and the McKay Royal Scots the best this year. Come out and support their team at McKay High School.

Andre, what's your favorite subject?

Human Anatomy

What are your favorite moments in basketball?

I enjoyed beating West Salem and South Salem last year.

It was awesome winning two Skyball-League Championships in middle school.

I had my career best of 29 points this year against North Salem.

What did it take for you to become the player you are today?

Training in the off-season, running a lot in practice, believing in the system, and trusting my coaches and teammates. It also took me showing up to the workouts with Coach Noza and learning as much as I could from him. Learning the plays well and executing them wholeheartedly.

What advice can you give young athletes?

Put in the work on your own time. The more work you put in the more results you'll see. Whatever the system is for you, buy into it and follow that path.

 

Israel Garza is a Gifted-Two-Sport Senior at McKay High School

It's not too often that you see a 5' 10" basketball player dunk the basketball on a ten-foot rim. In Salem, Oregon, at McKay High School, there is one gifted young man that not only is excelling on the basketball court, he's also brilliantly accomplishing what is rare. He is an elite athlete in two sports, basketball and track and field.

Israel Garza was born in Yuma, Arizona, and was a one-year-old toddler when his family moved to Oregon. He is the son of Noe and Veronica. He has an older sister, Alexis, and two younger half-brothers, Luis and Mercedes. Israel's parents separated when he was a toddler, he has always lived with his mom.

In the NE Salem area, many kids come from dysfunctional families. Israel is a kid that has been through the roughest of times as a young boy. He has grown up doing things that a dad would normally do, since his dad was not around much.

"There was a time that I would go over to my dad's house. I really thought that he was my best friend. Then, because he came down with a knee injury and other issues, my dad started going down the wrong path like he had once before. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd. After that happened, I decided to not continue going to his house. I chose to not be around him anymore," Israel said.

He attended Swegle Elementary in the fifth grade. He attended Waldo Middle School, and by his eighth-grade year he made a decision to transfer out of Waldo. He arrived at Stephens Middle School.

Israel has always been an outgoing and funny kid, and he made friends easily. Negative atmosphere was not his forte. He was an athletic kid that once played basketball with an AAU team out of Portland, Oregon. Running-wise, he was always the fastest kid in his school.

Dealing with family-home issues and responsibilities, there was another obstacle that Israel had to face. At Waldo he started being bullied a lot. The name-calling was horrific. The teachers tried helping, and he exhausted every attempt to make it stop. Sometimes kids would want to pick fights with him. Most of the reasons were because of his success and talent. Kids sometimes develop envy of other's successes.

"It was getting to be too uncomfortable dealing with the bullying at Waldo. Teachers helped, but they could only do so much. I finally decided to not deal with that anymore. I transferred out of that negative situation during my eighth-grade year," Israel said.

Israel joined four other kids from his Skyball-League team that he had played basketball with since the sixth grade, Drioji Joel, Andre Tovar, Ryan Bangs, and Khyler Beach. They are all seniors now, and have formed an athletic-friendship on and off the court.

In basketball, Israel was inspired by LeBron James, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA. He wears number 23 just like LeBron. In track and field, it was a P.E. teacher that encouraged him to go out for the track team. The teacher saw how fast Israel was and how high he could jump.

"When I was young, I watched LeBron play and got excited on how athletic he was. The way he attacked the hoop on the drive and the way he jumped up so high was admiring. I figured I had some of those abilities. I wanted to start playing like him," Israel said.

In basketball he played in the Skyball League where his team won the championship game his eighth-grade year. Israel played a lot of basketball with his friends. His athletic abilities made up for his lack of fundamentals in skill sets.

In middle-school track and field, he went on to shatter three city records. He holds the 100-meter record at 11.4, the long jump record at 20' 4", and the high jump record at 5' 10". There are high school kids today that can't do that their senior year!

Basketball and track and field have been an amazing counseling outlet for Israel. Getting away from all the issues he was dealing with, and physically exerting himself to relieve his stress level, was comfort and peace.

"I started working out a lot to get my mind off of things. The more I worked out the better I felt emotionally," Israel said.

Coming into McKay High School as a freshman, Israel was struggling with his grades. His GPA was sitting at 2.0 and he was failing some classes. He fell into a slight depression when he dislocated his shoulder during a football game. He didn't play very much that year. He started losing motivation and he was not doing his homework.

His mom, Veronica, sat him down and had a talk with him. She wanted to know what was going on. She encouraged Israel to make better decisions. Homework was important and so was his well being. She cared deeply for Israel and didn't want him going toward a wrong path.

"When my mom sat me down and talked to me, I realized I needed to do something, because my life was headed downward," Israel said.

Israel talked to a counselor and everything pointed to track and field and basketball. If he focused on those passions he had, it would take his mind off of his issues, whether family or school situations.

"Coach Noza started training me during the off-season. We would go out to the football-field bleachers and he would show me all kinds of drills to help build up my strength and conditioning. My knees were not good, but with the drills they got better. I was faster and stronger. Noza would also work with me in the gym to improve my basketball skill sets," Israel said.

 2016 - Israel Garza scores against South Medford. Photo by Kent Brewer.

2016 - Israel Garza scores against South Medford. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Israel was improving basketball-wise at McKay, and then he started training with Ed Ford, former track coach for Chemeketa Community College. Ed worked with Israel in his track and field skill set. There's more to being a sprinter than most people might think. The starting blocks, your running form, and other techniques that are vital.

"Coach Ed Ford took me out to Bush's Pasture Park to run up the Soap Box Derby hill. He showed me a lot about what it takes to become faster as a sprinter and getting into excellent running shape," Israel said.

For Israel, high school was overwhelming. There were different players in basketball than he was used to. The school work was tougher and the practices were more complex to a higher level. All of this was an enormous adjustment from middle school.

"I was glad that basketball and track and field were there for me. It was like the consistency of the training programs were so much better than in middle school. As I excelled on the basketball court and out on the track, my grades came up and my confidence rose to a higher level. I'm thankful to Coach Noza and Ed Ford for their help. I really needed that encouragement and self-esteem guidance," Israel said.

The basketball program under Dean Sanderson and Coach Noza has given Israel a positive foundation with a team that respects each other. If a kid in any way makes a negative comment to any player on the team, they'll hear from the head coach immediately. Dean will say, "We don't disrespect anyone on our team," and he'll do it in front of the entire team.

Throughout the years at McKay, Israel has improved in so many areas. Working with Coach Noza in the off-season has improved his ball-handling, his shooting, his defense, and his leaping abilities. Israel has become one of the top players for the Royal Scots.

"Israel has matured tremendously since his freshman year. Not just skill-wise, but more importantly in work ethic. And it's paying off exceptionally," Coach Matt Espinoza said.

Israel has formed a friendship with four other seniors on the basketball team. They've played together since their sixth-grade team. They know each other well. In their first game of the season, they came from behind to beat the tall Lakeridge Pacers, 90 - 81. Any of McKay's five seniors can shoot the three-point shot and any of them are capable of being the leading scorer on a different night.

 Israel with his friends that have played together since 6th grade. They won their first game of the season vs. Lakeridge, 90 - 81. Photo by Havier Gonzales (manager)

Israel with his friends that have played together since 6th grade. They won their first game of the season vs. Lakeridge, 90 - 81. Photo by Havier Gonzales (manager)

"Being part of this group of guys, playing together since sixth grade, is something a lot of people don't get to experience -- it has brought us closer together each and every day -- a true blessing," Israel said.

Israel has overcome many obstacles. He has stayed away from negative influences. From his freshman-year GPA of 2.0, to now as a senior, his GPA is currently 3.1 -- brilliant! He realizes how import grades are and how it can impact his future. Israel proudly says things have been stable and he lives with his mom and sister in their own home.

"Israel has a ton of God-given ability and is a great athlete. What's impressive to me is how much he has grown up in the last three to four years. He has gone from a poor shooter to a good one because of how much time he has committed. Israel is a good student and very respectful and reliable to his coaches, teammates, and teachers. I am proud to be his coach," Coach Dean Sanderson said.

Israel's track and field experience has been an amazing journey. He has had back-to-back district titles in the 100 meters and in the 200 meters. He broke the Aloha Invitational long jump and high jump records. He has made it to the finals in the OSAA 6A Track and Field State Championships two years in a row. In the 100-meters, his best time is 10.74, and in the 200-meters it's 21.61. Take my word for it, that's lightning fast for a high school kid.

 2017 - Israel Garza placed 5th at state in the 100-meter dash. Photo by Kent Brewer.

2017 - Israel Garza placed 5th at state in the 100-meter dash. Photo by Kent Brewer.

In his junior year he took fifth at state. What many people don't know is that he injured his hamstring during one of the relays at district. He nursed it as much as he could before the state meet, but because of the prelim races required to qualify for the finals, his injury came back and he was not 100 percent. He still managed to take fifth.

"This year will be different, I'm doing my best to stay healthy. I've talked to Coach Noza, who knows about nutrition. I've started eating healthy and working at staying hydrated," Israel said.      

Israel has a kind heart, he helps elderly people with groceries at times. He has a way of cheering up anyone that's feeling down. He doesn't like to be around negative environments. He also is involved in volunteering at Salem Hoops Project, a non-profit program that provides free basketball skill-set training for youth.

Israel's senior year is looking bright for him. After he graduates, he has a legit shot at playing basketball in college, or running on a track and field team at a Division I school. I'm wishing him the best of luck this season, in both, his basketball season and his track and field season.

I was able to reach Israel's mom, Veronica. She had some words to share.

"I could not be more proud of Israel. He has grown into a courageous and funny young man. Being his mom has been one of the greatest gifts in my life. I'm so proud of the generosity he has demonstrated regardless of the person. Israel has helped me by never getting into trouble, helping around the house, and being a positive role model. No matter what hard times we fall into, he's always there to encourage me and support the decisions I make. I love my son," Veronica said.  

What are your favorite moments in basketball and track and field?

In basketball, winning the Skyball-League championship with my friends, and in high school, beating West Salem last year. In track and field, winning back-to-back titles in the GVC and setting records at the Aloha invitational.

What are your short-term goals?

Graduate high school and make it to the playoffs in basketball. I want us to get further than last year. I also want to make it to state again in track and field -- 100 meters and 200 meters.

What are your long-term goals?

I would love to run the 100 meters and the 200 meters in college. I also want to get a computer science degree. I want to be a software developer.

Who is your favorite professional team?

Cleveland Cavaliers.

What kind of advice can you give a young athlete following your footsteps?

Start to finish stay strong. Don't try to take an easy way out. Do the best you can and don't try to be someone you're not. If there's an opportunity for you, take it. Never hang out with the wrong crowd.

Ryan Bangs Wears Number 31 Proudly for McKay Boys Basketball

Power forward Ryan Bangs wears number 31 for a special reason -- we'll get to that. The 6' 2" senior has improved by leaps and bounds since his freshman year. He joins four other seniors that have played together since sixth grade, Drioji Joel, Israel Garza, Andre Tovar, and Khyler Beach.

Ryan's parents are Chris and Jan Bangs. He has an older brother, Logan, and two older sisters, Emma and Erin. He grew up in the NE Salem area in a middle-income neighborhood. Things were pretty calm and laid back. As a young kid, Ryan spent a lot of time playing with several friends in the neighborhood -- he enjoyed hanging out with friends. He has stayed in contact with some of the people he knew back in those days.

He attended Hammond Elementary and Stephens Middle School. One might describe his personality as outgoing and active. Ryan is reserved a little if he doesn't know you, but when he gets to know you, he's not afraid to start a conversation.

There wasn't anything unique that stood out about how Ryan found inspiration to start playing basketball. It was simply because of his friends.

"It's just something we would do. When I was seven-years old I saw all my friends playing on the streets. I wanted to be around them, so we started playing in front of my house. Basketball just grew on me and I kept playing," Ryan said.

Ryan never played on any AAU team in his early years of basketball. He has always been a three-sport athlete playing football, basketball, and baseball. Baseball was probably the first sport he played that was in an organized and competitive league. In basketball, he played at Stephens Middle School in the Skyball League. His team entered several AAU tournaments, which gave him some great experience and awareness of the talent that was around Oregon. He helped his Skyball team win two league championships.

In middle school, Ryan played with a group of friends that were close to him. One of those kids was Isaac Wayne Arzate. Isaac's number was 31 and he was someone that resonated as being part of the group -- Ryan, Drioji, Israel, Andre, and Khyler. It was on the basketball court one day that Isaac collapsed with a heart attack.

"When Isaac collapsed, we were all in shock. It was a traumatic experience. If we hadn't gone through that emotional down-spiral together, I don't know if we would have made it this far as a group. I think that incident made us stronger and more inspired to continue what we started with our dear friend," Ryan said.

Isaac continued to fight and willed himself to continue with baseball, but his life ended during the spring. It was a tough situation for all of the kids. Dealing with the loss of a close teammate was a heart-breaking state that interrupted the group's life immeasurably.

Ryan started wearing number 31 in honor of Isaac. This season will be more of a bittersweet episode with the five seniors that have stuck together for the long haul. What would things be like with Isaac on the roster? I guess we'll never know, however, I can guarantee that Ryan Bangs will be representing Isaac proudly by wearing number 31.

RIP Isaac, the guys still miss you.

"Isaac gave me the inspiration to keep playing basketball, or any other sport. Anytime I think about giving up, I imagine about how difficult it was for him to continue four months after he had his heart attack," Ryan said.

When Ryan was ready to promote to high school, his dad wanted him to enroll at West Salem High School. His sister, Emma, was playing volleyball there. Ryan wasn't too happy about that, he had his mind on his friends and how he had been around them all through grade school and middle school. He didn't feel right about leaving the NE Salem area (where his friends were) to play for an upscale school like West Salem. After a baseball game, while driving back home, he discussed it with his dad and convinced him to let him play at McKay High School where his friends would be. Ryan admits having his debates with his dad. I think most parents want the best for their kids, or at least what they feel is the best thing for their kids. No disrespect to Chris Bangs, I know he is a caring dad and wants the best for his son who he loves dearly.

McKay is a diverse school and Ryan is the minority. There aren't too many Caucasian kids at this school -- a domination of Hispanics, Islanders, and some African Americans.

"I do believe that I am a minority at McKay. I see it as a benefit to me. It's really cool to have friends that are of different ethnicity and culture. I get to eat with them and enjoy all kinds of foods. I also see it as an opportunity to learn something new. If I would have attended West Salem or Dallas, I'm not sure I would be the person I am today. At McKay, it's not about status or winning, it's about how you come out after you've put in one-hundred percent effort to enter the real world," Ryan said.

Ryan admits that some of his friends joke around about their ethnicity -- all in fun with a tight group that know each other well.

"The entire time I've been at McKay, I've never had anyone scream out racist comments to me because I'm White. I think that says a lot for the high school I chose to attend," Ryan said.

As a freshman he was put on the varsity team, but didn't contribute much. Ryan didn't give up, he knew he had a lot to learn. One of his favorite things to do was to jump up and try to dunk the basketball. You can ask any coach about what Ryan does during water breaks. He'll grab a basketball and start trying to dunk it.

Ryan started training with Coach Noza during the off-season. Throughout the years he has improved in all areas of his game. His leaping abilities are superior. I don't know about that phrase "White men can't jump" because Ryan defies that statement. In his senior year he can now dunk the basketball off of two feet and off of one leg. He definitely has mad hops.

 Ryan Bangs blocks a shot against North Salem. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Ryan Bangs blocks a shot against North Salem. Photo by Kent Brewer.

"I don't know why I can jump so high. I think because I've always tried to dunk the ball for years during practice, on the streets and during water breaks at practice. I just did that a lot and probably it developed my jumping abilities," Ryan said.

Ryan speaks highly of Coach Matt Espinoza (Noza), the assistant varsity coach. During the last few summers Ryan has attended most of the open-gym workouts with Coach Noza. He has improved on his footing, his shooting, his ball-handling, and his confidence on the basketball court. Another person Ryan is grateful for, is Drioji Joel, his teammate. Drioji is the one that's always dragging his teammates to the gym or to anything that can help them grow as a team together.

"If it wasn't for Coach Noza I don't think I would be contributing on the basketball court as a senior. He's been there for me and others. He is a basketball trainer that I enjoy working with. I'm thankful for the help he's provided for our team," Ryan said.

Ryan is a the type of player that plays his role on the team. He knows were to be and when he has an open look at the basket. He knows who to get the ball to if he doesn't have an open shot. His confidence has jumped up a level where he feels comfortable enough to take that three-point basket in a game.

 Ryan takes a jumper for two points. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Ryan takes a jumper for two points. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson is a big part of McKay Boys Basketball. His personality is intense during the games, and he's not afraid to speak his mind to anyone. He does so much for the players in the background. He deals with meetings, parents, practice plans, etc. I could go on and on. One day at practice a kid broke his glasses. Dean jumped on it right away. He immediately started working on a plan to get this kid some athletic glasses. Most NE Salem kids can't afford to buy glasses -- it's a tough situation. When the team travels to Medford for the holiday tournament, Dean normally treats the team with meals, or an outing at the movies.

Dean is the type of coach that is straight forward and honest about team rules. Not only does he put the time and energy at teaching his play-calling-system, he also wants his players to become decent young men before they graduate ... I'm certain that Coach Noza agrees with him. He has to be the bad guy among parents if one of the players skips class. That player will not be playing in the next game no matter how good he is. However, that player will learn a valuable lesson about responsibility and accountability before he graduates from McKay. Thank you Dean, for the work you do for the boys.

Ryan has had some discussion with Dean about certain plays or certain situations. They have even laughed together at times after their discussions. He does it to help Ryan as much as he can, and it has paid off through the years.

"Ryan Bangs is a great kid and has been fun to coach. He's a great example for all our players. He never backs down from a challenge, including guarding opponents who are much bigger and taller then him. McKay is a much better place for him, because he chose to stick it out at McKay," Dean Sanderson said.

What many people don't know is that Ryan is the type of kid that will buy a meal for a homeless person at times. If he's going through a drive-through window and he spots a hungry-homeless person, he'll offer to buy him or her a burger. Ryan also invites his friends to attend church on Sundays with him. He is focused on Jesus Christ. He volunteers at Salem Hoops Project, a non-profit organization that provides free basketball skill-set training for grades K - 8. Ryan is infused at becoming helpful to younger kids.

There's a hashtag that Coach Matt Espinoza started, it was even on a McKay warm-up shirt, "#LiftAsYouClimb".  Ryan likes what that stands for, because for him, it has brought encouragement to work hard. That has got him where he's at today ... in so many ways ... on and off the court.  

 Ryan out jumps taller players regularly. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Ryan out jumps taller players regularly. Photo by Kent Brewer.

"Ryan has come a long way since his freshman year. He has been asked to do the hard job of being our big guy on the floor while being outsized in match-ups. I'm excited to see how Ryan applies his improvements in skill development into live games this year," Coach Noza said.

Ryan maintains a 3.3 GPA and sometimes it can be difficult to find study time. He's involved with many activities, and with late practices he often finds himself studying late at night. If there's a test coming up, he'll focus on studying for that test as it's nearing.

All the best to Ryan this season and his teammates. I'm still holding my end of the bargain. The first time Ryan gets a dunk in a game, I'll buy the varsity team 5 pizzas at Little Caesar's. I will deliver them to McKay High School after one of their practices. They will have dinner waiting. I can almost guarantee it will happen, so I better have my money ready!

Ryan, what's your favorite subject in school?

Science

What's your favorite moment in basketball?

When we beat West Salem in 2016, that has to be the best moment.  

What's your short-term goal?

I really want my team to make the playoff this year.

What's your long-term goal?

If I have the opportunity to play college basketball, I'll go for it. I'd like to enroll in a program to become a paramedic or even a coast guard.

Who is your favorite professional team?

Blazers!

Drioji Joel Will Play Big for McKay Boys' Basketball

McKay High School Boys' Basketball is about to capitalize on a young man that's been putting in hours of work during the off-season. The Royal Scots missed the playoffs by one game last year. This year could be different.

The NE Salem area is the most diverse section of the capital city. There are families dealing with challenging situations, whether lack of funds or a dysfunction of some kind. Sports can be a challenging task for coaches because of this reason. There are kids that walk two miles to practice in cold or wet weather. Some kids have both parents working trying to make ends meet causing neglect that can't be helped. Some kids belong to single-mom families or single-dad families. If you drove out to McKay some evening, you would see several students outside in the cold weather waiting for their parents to pick them up. Some parents may never show up forcing the kids to walk home.

Drioji Joel wears number 0 on his McKay basketball uniform. He says it's because number 1 was already taken. He has adapted well and found success in this McKay-High-School environment. He is the son of Clasper and Mina Joel. His parents are divorced. Drioji has two sisters, Nialeen and Cataleyn, who live with their dad. Drioji lives with his mom along with his two brothers, Helton and David.

"My parents divorced when I was three-years old, so really, it was never an obstacle for me to overcome or to adjust -- it's just something I've grown up with," Drioji said.

Drioji grew up in NE Salem, Oregon, in a low-to-middle-income neighborhood. He had plenty of friends to hang out with in a calm area with not much disturbance. He was inspired to play the game of basketball because of his dad, who often would play at open gyms.

"My dad would take me along and I'd watch all of the players. I wanted to give basketball a try. It really looked fun. When I started playing, I never stopped, I continued to this day," Drioji said. 

He attended three grade schools, Swegle Elementary, Auburn Elementary, and Lamb Elementary. He then enrolled into Stephen's Middle School. Playing basketball in middle school was a passion Drioji discovered and infused with his teammates. Four of those players are still playing with him now at McKay ... Khyler Beach, Ryan Bangs, Andre Tovar, and Israel Garza. Drioji had another teammate, Isaac Wayne Arzate, that played middle-school basketball with him. He was a close friend and one that was assumed to be playing as a senior with the same group.

During the sixth grade, Isaac had a heart attack. He recovered a little, but by the time baseball season came around his heart condition progressed and he died of complications. Drioji was hit hard by what happened to his teammate. It's not an easy thing to go through as a young kid.

As his middle-school days were full of life experiences, Drioji found himself playing a lot of basketball at Stephen's Middle School with his friends in the Skyball-League. During this time he came down with four ankle injuries. One of the injuries actually broke his ankle. He was on crutches for three weeks. Losing his friend, Isaac, and then this severe injury put him in the darkest of hours.

"Isaac was such a close friend to me. It was one of the toughest things I'd ever gone through. We all still miss him, but we have to move on. In addition to all of that sadness during my middle-school days, I also had so many ankle injuries ... sometimes it was more difficult to not play basketball then to be injured," Drioji said.

Drioji is a quiet kid, and normally likes to joke around with the friends he knows well. One might imagine Drioji giving up with all the injuries and things that were happening in his life at the time. He's definitely not a quitter, he's a fighter and someone that prevails despite his downfalls. Drioji resonated helping his middle-school team make it to the championship game three years in a row. They won the league championship two of those years. Unfortunately, he was not able to play in any of the championship games because of his injuries.

As far as organized teams, his Skyball-league team played in some AAU tournaments, but that's about it. He cherished the moments of middle-school basketball, and was looking forward to high-school basketball.

Coming in as a freshman, Drioji was 5' 3" and the shortest basketball player at McKay High School. His ball-handling skills were decent and Head Coach Dean Sanderson saw something in this kid. Drioji was placed on the varsity team. Battling during the varsity practices, he struggled sitting the bench and watching during the real games.

After his freshman year, Drioji knew the kind of work he had to put in if he wanted some kind of future with the Royal Scots. This school had over 2,000 kids attending and there were some pretty competitive athletes on the team. He started attending every open-gym workout during the off-season. Coach Matt Espinoza (Coach Noza) who is the assistant varsity coach, works with kids like Drioji to help them succeed in skill-set development and in life skills. Noza demonstrates good examples on and off the court and instills those values to the basketball players.

"As far as I'm concerned, all credit goes to Coach Noza. He started working with me, I couldn't believe how much my ball-handling skills, footing, and shooting improved. I got in the gym anytime it was open," Drioji said.

Every year, during the off-season, Drioji has worked hard. The dedication and passion has made him the player he has become off the court. He stays away from negative influences, and he studies hard to improve his GPA. He currently maintains a 3.3 GPA. Drioji is a kid that is a perfect example of someone working hard to be successful, not only on the basketball court, but also in his long-term future after basketball.

"Drioji has always had a passion for the game and a drive to get better in the off-season. Since last season, his greatest improvement has been his confidence," Coach Noza said.

 Drioji drives to the basket. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Drioji drives to the basket. Photo by Kent Brewer.

By the time Drioji was a junior, he was one of the starting five on the Royal Scots' team. He was a contributing factor at 5' 5" running the point-guard position. During his junior year, the growth was visible because of his passion for the game and his warrior determination to get better. If you walked into an open gym no matter what time of the season, you would see Drioji working at his shooting or ball-handling.

"No one ever made fun of my height, except for my friends when they were just joking around, I was cool with that -- all in fun. My challenges were on the basketball court in a game. It was difficult for me to get a rebound, or shoot over taller players. That's something I had to adapt to by working on my moves driving to the basket or dishing off an assist," Drioji said.

Now as a senior, he stands at 5' 6" which is still small for 6A basketball, but don't count Drioji out, he has developed strengths through his years of hard work. He has become one of the leaders on the basketball court and his shooting has improved tremendously.

Two of Drioji's favorite all-time moments in basketball was when the Royal Scots defeated highly-ranked West Salem last year during the early part of the season. The other moment was when McKay played rivalry McNary. Drioji hit four 3-point baskets and finished with 16 points.      

"Drioji represents what's best about McKay basketball. He's undersized ... didn't grow up going to expensive camps and has had to outwork others to become one of the best point guards in the area. I'm glad we get him for one more year and am proud to coach him," Head Coach Dean Sanderson said.

 Coach Dean Sanderson gives Drioji a play to run. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Coach Dean Sanderson gives Drioji a play to run. Photo by Kent Brewer.

Drioji has a short-term goal of helping his team, the McKay Royal Scots, make it to the playoffs and also increasing his GPA from 3.3 to 3.5. His long-term goal is to graduate from a university. If an opportunity arises to play college basketball as a point guard, he will jump on that in a second.

This young man has done some nice things during his high-school days that not too many people know about. When he sees a homeless person holding up a sign, he sometimes gives them $1.00. Drioji also is a volunteer at Salem Hoops Project. He demonstrates skills to K-5 kids. He has been one of the most consistent volunteers for this non-profit organization that provides free basketball skill-set training to NE Salem kids.

This season, McKay will have five players that have played together since their sixth-grade year. The coaches have worked with these kids, to not only develop their basketball mindset, but also to help them become decent people and productive citizens when they leave McKay High School.

 Ryan Bangs, Khyler Beach, Andre Tovar, and Israel Garza. Formatted by David Espinoza.

Ryan Bangs, Khyler Beach, Andre Tovar, and Israel Garza. Formatted by David Espinoza.

To see Ryan Bangs and Israel Garza dunking the ball off of two feet, and then to see Khyler Beach dunking off of one leg, and Andre along with Drioji knocking down 5 threes in a row, well, it will be a special season for these young men.

In fact, I'm going to wager five large pizzas and drinks for the team, at Little Ceasars Pizza, the first time Ryan Bangs gets a dunk in a game, and believe me, it will happen. I saw him dunk the basketball three straight times in a row with authority -- monster dunks!  

The best of luck to Drioji Joel, his senior teammates, and the rest of teammates who are ready to play their final year of high school basketball.

Congratulations on your successful journey, Drioji! You deserve all the happiness and rewards.

Drioji, what are your favorite hobbies?

I like to play video games and basketball with my teammates.

Do you have a favorite professional team?

I really don't have a favorite team, but my favorite player is Kobe Bryant.

Tell me about your study habits.

I like to study at home after practice, or at school sometimes.

What advice can you give kids that want to accomplish what you have?

Work as hard as you can. If you're in a basketball program, buy into it. The coaches know what they're doing. Last year we bought into the program and we had a successful run missing the playoffs by one game.  

 

Half Blind with Full Vision, an Autobiography by David Espinoza

Before sharing the introduction page of my new book, I'd like to sincerely say that I wrote this book to glorify God, not myself. Please keep that in mind, because without Jesus (God the Son) I'm nothing.

New Release!

Title: Half Blind with Full Vision

Retail Price: $23.00

ISBN: 978-1-60862-712-7

Paperback Page Count: 392

Photos: 33 pages

BookHBcover1-1.png

 Introduction

I'm fifty-eight years old and I've kept a secret for pretty much my entire life. For the longest time I wanted to be normal, just like everyone else around me. When you read my story you'll understand why. Deep inside I knew that I was different, physically. You wouldn't want to go through what I did as a child, as a grade-school kid, as a middle-school kid, or as a high-school kid. And then later as an athlete or as a young boy wanting to date a girl. My life has been one heck of a mess, one heck of a highlight, and one heck of a resilient story. I have felt depressed; I have felt embarrassed; I have felt scared; I have felt bullied; I have felt worthless, and I have felt cheated in life.

Things just didn't seem fair to me for a long time. Why God allowed this to happen to me, I'll never know. But when he closes half of my window, he opens other talents, possibilities, and joys for me. I never felt angry at God, but I felt angry at people who made fun of me. I felt angry at people that put me in uncomfortable situations throughout my life, especially when I was helpless and defenseless. I owe a big thanks to my dad, my sweet mom, and my two older brothers. They defended me whenever they could.

I can't imagine what my family went through, dealing with me and hearing how other kids or adults spoke about me. I've never asked them, and I don't think I ever will. One thing is for sure, they have always honored what I asked of them. They knew I didn't want anyone to know about my secret. I'm sure at times it leaked out, I understand they were not perfect. I knew that writing this would be difficult for me. I knew that this is what I needed to do to share with the world that despite a huge obstacle, people like me can still live a productive and joyful life. I didn't realize God was with me the entire time, guiding me and steering me in the right direction, but now I do. God loved me so much that He heard my prayers and He answered my prayers one at a time in His timing, and today He still hears my prayers.

I eventually overcame many things that happened to me during my youth life. I worked so hard at anything I did and mastered it – something drove me to want to be a perfectionist. During my adult life I lost someone very precious to me. Someone that I loved deeply. It would again affect me emotionally in a different way than what happened in my youth. I wasn't thinking about Jesus, and I was going to church every Sunday. I started thinking of myself only, selfishly. God was with me and heard my prayers, he brought people into my life that helped me along the way. Jesus restored me to the person that I once was before I lost someone very close to me. I owe a big thank you to Loni, Matt, Jake, and Darci. These special people, who display Jesus in life, helped me in many ways. You'll find out when you read my story.

I hope that my true story provides some useful information to someone that might be going through what I did. Just remember one thing, it's when things get the roughest and toughest that we must not give up, and we must continue the faith with the absence of doubting. Please sit back and enjoy my story, I'll do my best to tell it honestly and passionately.

Note: My new book is available to order now. In addition to paperback, my books are also available on the Kindle and Nook.

To order books (no shipping charges in USA):

Autographed copy - www.davidespi.com

Order with shipping charges:

Amazon.com

www.barnesandnoble.com

You can also order from any retail store

Book-signing event:

Date: December 9, 2017

Time: Noon - 3:00 p.m.

Place: Lancaster Mall

Store: Rainbow West Book Store

Address: 831 Lancaster Dr. NE

City, St., Zip: Salem, OR 97301

A huge thank you to my content editors, Matt Espinoza and Jake Espinoza. In addition, Matt is my webmaster and Jake is my book-cover graphic-design artist. I'm also thankful to my wife, Loni Espinoza, she's my grammar-editing partner. I would not be able to write and publish any of my books without the love and support from these amazing people.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support, I hope you enjoy my new book. Please spread the word. God bless you all.

Leva Mike is Helping Rebuild McKay Lady Scots Basketball

McKay High School Girls' Basketball has struggled in the last few years. Many of the girls that play on the team lack experience in skill sets. Financially, it's difficult to send a child to costly basketball camps. Private lessons can cost anywhere from $30.00 to $60.00 an hour. Dysfunctional-family situations can make it difficult for a child to get introduced to basketball at an early age. Transportation is a challenge -- some kids walk miles just to get to practice. A lot of kids in N.E. Salem do not have the support and encouragement they need to be fully developed as a basketball player by the time they come in as a freshman.

Salem Hoops Project has been an encouraging factor. This program, held at McKay High School, provides free basketball skill-set training for grades K - 12. The attendance is growing and many kids are getting an early start on skill development while having fun in a safe place. Considering all of this, the area still needs more. McKay needs more kids like, Leva Mike.

Leva Mike wears number 11. The 5' 4" junior says she's worn that number since her sixth-grade year -- there's no significance to it. She is the daughter of Howard and Rachel. She has two sisters, Breeanna and Patricia, and one brother, Lawrence -- they all have a passion for basketball.

Leva grew up in Dallas, Oregon, in a middle-income neighborhood. At age five, she was inspired to play basketball through watching her dad. Her dad would play in many basketball tournaments. She would shoot hoops on the side baskets. It was a regular occurrence to hang around her dad at work where there was a gym available. She was always learning how to dribble or shoot the basketball.

She attended grades K - 3 at Lyle Elementary School, grades 4 - 5 at Whitworth Elementary, and also LaCreole Middle School -- all in Dallas, Oregon. Leva has a quiet personality, and once she gets to know someone she'll joke around a bit. She's the type of person that always wants to do the right thing. The well-mannered and soft-spoken young lady is always thinking as well. Her work ethic is inspiring.

"School was hard for me in Dallas, I didn't have many friends -- I felt like I didn't fit in. My daily routine was getting up early and shooting baskets outside until it was time to go to school. I always made an effort to stay out of trouble. After school, I'd go home and do my homework and then I'd go outside again and shoot more baskets," Leva said.

Leva started playing organized basketball in the fifth grade. In Dallas, they had open tryouts for a Dallas tournament team -- every year for each grade level. The team would play at The Hoop, in Eugene, Portland, and other places. Leva was always one of the best players. The parent support was amazing. Anytime she was on the basketball court she would forget about the uncomfortable situations at school.

Leva was alone most of the time. Sometimes she would sit by herself in the lunchroom. In grade school things were tolerable. In middle school, kids made fun of her and her introvert personality. Kids joined different groups and she lost some of the friends from her grade-school days. School days started causing her a lot of unhappiness and emotional stress.

"Every day after school I'd come home with worries and headaches. In elementary school it wasn't so bad, because kids didn't judge me so much. In middle school things got worse for me. My parents could tell that I wasn't happy at that school -- they were concerned. I loved getting in the gym. It cleared my mind -- it gave me a lift," Leva said.

Dallas High School has a dominate population of Caucasian students with few Hispanics and Native Americans in the mix. While many people would argue that there's no kind of discrimination in schools, the reality is, that different cultures and ethnic types do create static.

Leva's counseling was basketball, she played on a Dallas tournament team every year and was one of the top three-point shooters. During the summers she would continue playing on tournament teams -- basketball was year-round for her, she loved it that much.

While dealing with discomfort at her school she always looked forward to the summers to play more basketball. The summer after eighth-grade year, she was playing at the Hoopla 3-ON-3 Tournament in Salem, Oregon. She was hit pretty hard by a bigger girl. Leva went flying to the curb and landed on her left shoulder. The pain was excruciating and some of the girls were telling her, "You're okay, shake it off." She was lying on the hot pave with sweat pouring down her face and could not move her shoulder. Days after she healed a bit, she started playing again. She knew something wasn't right with the entire area where the clavicle (collar bone) was located.

After seeing the doctor and trying a few things that could possibly heal it, nothing worked. She had an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) done and the results showed torn tendons that were supposed to be attached to support the clavicle. Surgery had to be done immediately to repair the tendons, otherwise the tears could have caused permanent damage to other vital body parts.

Leva was out for several months while she healed. She attended physical-therapy sessions as she recovered slowly. She was experiencing some of her darkest hours and her family was right next to her supporting her with whatever she needed. Her battle of getting back to good health and getting in the gym again was resilient. Leva was a fighter and recovered from this horrific injury. She was finally back to full strength.

"I wanted to do everything I could to heal right. They told me that if I didn't have surgery, my collar bone could pop out of my skin. That really scared me," Leva said. 

Leva's brother, Lawrence and sister Patricia, are much younger. Breeanna is two years older and her best friend. The sisters worked out together many hours and they complimented each other in many things. Breeanna was doing well in Dallas and had friends in high school. Leva was the contrast, she didn't have many friends and was struggling with the kids there. In 2015 she was about to become a freshman and in her mind she was assuming that she would get a tryout for the varsity squad.

Leva had a teammate during the middle-school years. She called her, "my right hand". They played well together and were both of the same skill level. The disappointment came when her teammate received that varsity tryout and Leva didn't. Breeanna was doing well in basketball, but was put on the JV team. Leva was put on the JV2 team.

From that point on things just escalated to a higher level and Leva was showing too many signs of depression with her school situation. Her parents' concern escalated. They knew a change had to be made to help their daughter escape this emotional turmoil. What parent in the right mind would not want to help their child?

Leva's mom and dad graduated from McKay High School, they had an idea to relocate their entire family to NE Salem and have their two daughters play for the McKay Lady Scots. The plan was to move in with their grandma until they could find a house to rent.

"My sister, Breeanna, was my best friend. She was fine with us moving out of Dallas. I think my whole family knew that I was having trouble coping at that school. Breeanna was willing to change up things with her basketball career. She didn't like the way I felt and the way I was treated there, so she was willing to move for me. I love my sister," Leva said.

So it was all set and the entire family moved to the NE Salem area to start a new life at McKay High School with over 2,000 students verses Dallas High School of 1,000 students.

 2015 - McKay crowd welcomes, Leva Mike. Photo by Kent Brewer

2015 - McKay crowd welcomes, Leva Mike. Photo by Kent Brewer

"It was crazy! We moved in with my grandma. We had nine people living in a small house with one restroom. We eventually found a house to rent, and we're now looking for a house to someday own," Leva said with a smile.

Leva noticed right away how much bigger McKay was, and how nice she was treated and warmly welcomed. Head Coach Lee Horton saw the talent in both the Mike girls that had transferred from Dallas High School. It was a breath of fresh air and an acquisition of two players that McKay needed badly to help the team.

Leva admits there were many adjustments. She was coming in to a team that had a losing record with girls that weren't motivated to work year-round. It was the total opposite from Dallas where the girls would work year-round to improve their skills, and then have a winning record.

"I made the varsity team as a freshman at McKay, whereas in Dallas I was thinking maybe I would be on varsity my sophomore year. Our practices at McKay were not the same. In Dallas we ran a lot more. If we didn't do it right, we'd do it again. At McKay, my first practice, we didn't do much running at all, just worked on plays," Leva said.

Leva was dealing with awkwardness for a few weeks, but she was adapting well along with her sister, Breeanna. Let's just say some of the upper-class girls didn't realize how much work she had put in prior to arriving at McKay. Her freshman year she was one of the go-to players for scoring along with her sister. Coach Horton talked to Leva about being a captain her sophomore year. She made an impact her freshman year and got the coach's attention

"After my freshman season was over, our coach said we were not having any summer-league games. We were doing skill development instead. I had always played games in the summer -- I missed that. The only problem was that Breeanna and I were the only ones showing up for skill development. Coach Horton worked with us that spring and early summer. The girls at McKay were not as motivated as the girls in Dallas. It was definitely a huge adjustment for Breeanna and me," Leva said.

That summer of 2016, Leva discovered Salem Hoops Project. Free basketball clinics at McKay. Matt Espinoza (Coach Noza), who is the boys' assistant coach, created this skill-set training program -- a non-profit organization. Leva started getting some skill-set training from Noza. She was hooked and started learning a lot. Working with Coach Horton and then working with Coach Noza was a tremendous help to her.

 2016 - Leva drives to the hoop verses South Salem. Photo by Kent Brewer

2016 - Leva drives to the hoop verses South Salem. Photo by Kent Brewer

"I like what Coach Noza is doing with Salem Hoops Project. He's starting kids out at an early age so they have those skills developed by the time they get to high school -- McKay really needs this. Noza has taught me so much about footwork, shooting, and dribbling skills. He demonstrates everything well, so it's easy for me to learn. I also run a lot while having fun working on different drills," Leva said.

In Dallas during her middle-school days, Leva's favorite trainer and coach was John Tichenor. He had an accident that disabled him from walking. He continued his basketball passion through working with kids. Leva speaks highly of him.

"I like working with Coach Noza, I'm probably in the best shape of my life because of him. He reminds me of John Tichenor and how I enjoyed working with him," Leva said.

After her sophomore year at McKay High School, Leva had become one of the best three-point-shooting guards in the GVC (Greater Valley Conference). She averaged 10.3 points per game and her game high was 23 points. In 2016-2017 she was voted GVC Honorable Mention. She has played against players like Katie McWilliams (at OSU now) and Evina Westbrook (at Tennessee now).

"Leva has a love for the game that makes her willing to do anything to get better. She never misses an opportunity to get in the gym and work on her game. In the past few years she has become a more efficient ball handler and more consistent shooter. I'm excited for her future," Coach Noza said.

Despite the fact that Mckay was winning few games, Leva was having fun and felt like she fit in with the students at McKay. Sometimes, winning isn't everything. Sure, it feels great to win games. It should be a team goal. What's truly more important is learning, working hard as a team, improving every game, and having fun. For Leva, it was in her best interest to transfer out of Dallas High School -- it worked out for her, her family, and McKay girls basketball.

"Leva is clearly our leader -- team captain as a sophomore. Although not vocal, she leads by example. Leva continuously works hard to become a better basketball player. She is also and outstanding student-athlete," Head Coach Lee Horton III said.

Leva and her sister, Breeanna, played together for two years at McKay -- 2015 and 2016. They brought experience and scoring to the Lady Scots. Somehow they picked up a nickname, "Splash Sisters". When the basketball hits nothing but net, it sounds like a splash.

 2016 - Leva, Patricia, and Breeanna. Photo by David Espinoza

2016 - Leva, Patricia, and Breeanna. Photo by David Espinoza

"My sister was the best. We knew what each other's moves were. We played well together. Sometimes it was good that we could read each other in practice. It forced us to create new moves. I'm definitely going to miss B," Leva said.

While Breeanna will be playing at Chemeketa Community College this season (2017 - 2018), Leva will have another transfer coming in that will help the McKay Lady Scots. This will replace Breeanna's skills in attacking the hoop. Anita Lao will be joining the team, she's a solid player and will be able to contribute immediately.

"Leva is a very special sister with a lot of love for the game. It was my pleasure being able to experience playing along her side," Breeanna Mike said. 

Leva's hard work over the last two years has resonated the help to rebuild the Lady Scots. She leads by example displaying her hard work at skill development. If the gym's open, she's normally there ready to work. She has been attending all of the open gyms and is normally the only girl working with the boys. She volunteers regularly at Salem Hoops Project along with her teammate, Cheyenne Almond, and stays to workout during the grades 6 - 12 sessions. Leva has extended her skill development year-round working with Coach Noza when the gym is available.

 2017 - Leva volunteering at Salem Hoops Project. Photo by David Espinoza

2017 - Leva volunteering at Salem Hoops Project. Photo by David Espinoza

In addition to Anita Lao, the girls' team will have some solid players with a foundation to pick up some wins this season ... Diana Cruz; Bella Allanis; Danica Chremnov; Bailey Bryant; Justine Coburn; Cheyenne Almond; Autumn Allen, and Araya Allen.

"A lot of the girls on our team work hard during the season, but the minute the season is over, well, they drop the ball. I want to do my best to encourage them to show up when the gym is open during the fall, winter, spring, or summer. Salem Hoops Project has clinics year-round," Leva said.

Leva has two years left at McKay High School. Academically she's doing great maintaining a 3.3 GPA. Her focus is doing her homework at home and not at school. Leva plans to help her team excel beyond what anyone might expect.

Leva has overcame several major obstacles. She never gives up on her team or the game she loves. She is happy to call McKay High School her new home and is grateful for the nice people she has met. The coaches and trainers that have worked with Leva are all very proud of her. Best of luck to Leva and the Mckay Lady Scots this season!

If you have a child interested in basketball and is from the NE Salem area, please check out www.salemhoopsproject.org ... register your child and receive an email about basketball-clinic schedules.

Leva, what is your favorite subject in school?

I like math and art.

Favorite basketball moment?

I was in the 7th grade and I was playing on an 8th-grade team. We were losing by 12 points with time running out. We came down and ran the same play three times in a row and I hit a 3-point shot each time. The next time we had the ball, we ran the same play for the fourth time, and I hit a big three! We were tied. Unfortunately, a girl came down on me during the shot and I hyperextended my knee. The game was tied and my teammate, Addie, took the free throw for me. Addie made the free throw and we won!

Short-term goals?

Win some games with my teammates,  and then I want to make first team all-league.

Long-term goals?

I want to play college basketball, maybe at Chemeketa where my sister is playing. I want to study sports medicine. I like helping people. When I injured my shoulder I watched the physical therapists do their job. Their occupation inspired me to want to help injured athletes.

Favorite team?

I like the Louisville Cardinals, especially when sisters Jude and Shoni Schimmel played there. I didn't miss any of their games on TV. Shoni now plays in the WNBA and Jude plays overseas.

P.E. Teachers Rock at the Country Kids Relays in Salem, Oregon

Some of you might remember the Jaycee Relays back in the days. The relays have gone through several name changes through the years depending on what organization is sponsoring the mega-event. This year they were called the Country Financial Kids Relays.

I normally coach a team or two for my wife, Loni Espinoza, who is a P.E teacher at Brush College Elementary. I wasn't able to coach a team this year due to an injury. I did, however, recover enough to volunteer the entire day on Saturday 20, 2017. I experienced helping set up in the morning; taking things down in the evening; taking team pictures after the races; transporting kids back to parents; answering questions for parents, and supervising kids under the tent. My wife kept me busy all day. And this was nothing compared to what these P.E. teachers do.

 2017 Brush College Elementary P.E. Teacher, Loni Espinoza

2017 Brush College Elementary P.E. Teacher, Loni Espinoza

Back in the 1980s my two boys ran in these relays and as a parent I had no clue what these P.E. teachers went through. Not only the entire day, but also the preparation it takes starting two months prior to this gigantic event. I've been married to my wife for over ten years now, and I can say that I have a pretty good idea of what P.E. teachers go through to prepare for this positive-community event.

Let's start with the time trials for each grade, first through fifth grade. The categories for each grade are boys, girls, and coed. That means every grade will have three teams with the fastest kids in the school. Time trials have to be executed for fairness of selections. The P.E. teacher coordinates the volunteers to help with time trials. The method my wife uses is, a volunteer will start two kids at a time while she clocks the times at the opposite end of the track. This process takes several days. The goal is to select the fastest kids and place them on the designated teams, girls, boys, or coed.

When the teams are determined, the P.E. teachers write out permission slips and send them home with the child so the parents can sign them. The relays are an extra curricular activity that P.E. teachers do for the kids, the teachers go beyond measures to make this a fun experience for parents and children.

When the teams are set and ready to practice they need coaches. Some P.E. teachers will need volunteer parents and some will do it all themselves. The volunteer-calling marathon or posting of volunteer-sign-up sheets starts for some P.E. teachers. Some schools are more blessed than others on helpful support from parents. I feel tremendously for the schools that don't have this support. I'm also very thankful for the parents that help these P.E. teachers out, you are recognized.

Much thanks to school staff that help out in coaching or other things. One year there was even a custodian that volunteered. My wife appreciates teachers like Victoria Berry and Dyanne Miller, who volunteered this year for Brush College.

Once the volunteers are assigned to coach a relay team, the P.E. teacher has to coordinate with them on options of when practices can take place. The relay coaches work with the kids on exchanges with first-and-second leg, second-and-third leg, and finally third-and-fourth leg. The baton exchanges are the most crucial part of the race. Any team that can master this technique in grade school will do very well at the relays.

Okay, so everything is going well and the practices are happening, often during a recess, or if the coaches coordinate a time after school, it's up to them to coordinate with their teams. Volunteer coaches are a huge help to P.E. teachers. Just when you thought things were set and rolling, a parent calls and decides they can't coach anymore for reasons -- it's life and it just happens. The scramble to find another coach starts as the time for the event is nearing. Sometimes a new coach is found and sometimes a volunteer or the P.E teacher ends up coaching two or three teams. My wife calls me when she needs me, one year I ended up coaching three teams. It's doable, but a tough challenge.

The coaching situation is taken care of -- great! All of a sudden a child decides they don't want to do the relays anymore, or a child gets injured, yep, another thing to deal with and adjustments to be made. Maybe there is a competitive parent that feels his or her child should be running in a certain team -- another thing to deal with. When I ask my wife, "What if this child doesn't show up on Saturday?" Her answer is always, "I'll deal with it then."

I keep forgetting that P.E. teachers do this for the kids. The excitement on a child's face to have an opportunity of representing their school in the biggest relay event is priceless. Some teams have new matching uniforms every year and some teams use the same t-shirts every year.

When everything is finalized and teams are all set for the races on a Saturday during the month of May, the P.E. teachers are ready for the real work to start. This year I decided to participate in the entire day with my wife, Loni. My son, Matt, is a P.E. teacher at Richmond Elementary and he also coaches basketball at McKay High School. This year was extra special because my son and wife were both going to be there all day.

Every P.E. teacher operates differently and might have their process in place of how they do things with their school and students. Speaking for my wife, the week before she stages some things in our garage. On Friday night she loaded up her car with the tent, the signs to post on the grandstands or on the tent, box of t-shirts, first aid kit, etc.

Early on Saturday morning we drove to McCulloch Stadium, which is where Willamette University plays their field games. Some P.E. teachers showed up earlier than 6:00 a.m. to set up. We showed up at 6:00 a.m. We unloaded the car and hauled everything to the Brush College Elementary assigned spot on the infield of the track area. My son was assigned the spot right next to us, fun! All P.E. teachers are pretty much cranking with a lot of hard work setting up their areas where the kids would meet and hang out while races were going.

 2017 Early Morning Setup - Matt Espinoza with Step-mom, Loni Espinoza. 

2017 Early Morning Setup - Matt Espinoza with Step-mom, Loni Espinoza. 

The organization of this event was mesmerizing. From the start, parents drop off their kids at a supervised-staging area where the P.E. teachers have a school sign held up while they wait for the kids to arrive. There is one full cycle for each grade, first through fifth. When all the schools had their specific grade teams ready at 7:45 a.m., a parade started down the track in front of the grandstand leading all teams to their respective tents. P.E. teachers were on full-working mode the entire day with the exception of a short lunch in the middle part of the day. Race number 1 started at 8:15a.m.

The flow of 95 races throughout the day was pretty amazing to see. There were many volunteers working at each staging area from the beginning of the races to the end of the races. After each race, some P.E. teachers, definitely my wife, coordinated team pictures and then delivered each relay team to their parents at another staging area. This year the child-pick-up area was organized even better than last year. Kids were returned to their parents safely after their race was over.

May Trucking donated boxes of water bottles to each tent in the field. Thank you May Trucking! Only people with a special-made wristband were authorized to come into the field area -- this was for security reasons and child safety reasons.

It was a long and tiring day and very hot in the afternoon. Every year is different, kids run in pouring-down rain, or strong winds. The weather could be 100 degrees or 30 degrees, the show must go on. Those days are even more challenging for the P.E. teachers.

Every race was exciting to watch and every kid seemed to try their best while running. The talent was amazing to see, especially the close racing that came down to the wire. Kids were doing their best no matter how fast they were -- fun to watch. The girl that was running and then lost her headband, stopped to pick it up, put it back on her head, and then continued running, was fun to watch. The kid that ran over her own teammate and landed on top, and then the kid got up and continued to run was also fun to watch. The kid that bypassed second leg and continued running to third leg was fun to watch.

You see people you know that you haven't seen in a long time, it's more than just kids' relays, it's also such a huge community event. The parking was not the best, but it seemed like people still made it without complaints. I looked up at the stadium seats and I saw the parents, relatives, and friends of the kids running. The smiles, laughs, and picture-taking episodes were enough to tell me that all of the hard work P.E. teachers go through is such a memorable reward for everyone there.  

Only the qualifying teams of mostly fourth and fifth graders raced the Mayor's Mile, which is the 4 X 400 relay towards the end of the event. That race was also a fun and exciting event. One of the funniest events was the mascots' race. Some of the schools had their mascot in uniform run the 100-meter dash. This year the green man was defeated by the Salem Academy Crusader.

There were 51 schools participating this year and a total of 95 races. Teachers were there from 6:00 a.m. until the last race at 5:30 p.m. We were in the last race of the day along with my son's team. We tore the tent down and packed our stuff up. We drove to Brush College Elementary to unload all of the equipment, and the tent. By the time we got home it was past 7:00 p.m.

I personally want to thank all of the P.E. teachers out there that sacrifice their own time for the kids, the community, and their schools, I didn't realize what P.E. teachers went through until I married my wife back in 2005. I talked to a few P.E. teachers throughout the day on Saturday. Some needed hip replacements, some needed knee replacements -- wow, and they were still grinding hard all day. It was a true inspiration of the love they have for kids and for serving.

I hope that our school district continues to support our physical education curriculum, exercise is so important for kids, especially in today's technology world where it's so easy to get glued to the screen, iPhone, or video games and avoid exercising. The kids' relays are such an asset to the community, I always look forward to watching this event and in helping out where ever I can.

Congrats to all of the P.E. teachers and volunteers for making the world a better place for our kids.                

Soccer Mom Darci Berry de Canessa Finds First-Time Coaching Positive

At Woodburn, Oregon, there is something special going on at Centennial Park. The community has embraced the sport of soccer defining fun in a safe and organized environment. Families show up every Saturday to watch their kids play soccer games anywhere from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The fields are marked and maintained nicely.

I was there last Saturday to watch some PeeWee League games, which are kids 3 - 5 years of age -- some are true beginners. Some of the kids were more advanced than others and some more emotional. It was so impressive to see the parents supporting their kids and encouraging them. The crowds rooting for their team were pretty large and as teams finished games, more teams showed up to play. There was plenty of parking and there was even a concession stand. The flow of people coming in and out of the parking lot was timed well.

This Spring 2017 Soccer Program has several leagues, a PeeWee Co-Ed League (3 - 5); a Kinder; a Grades 1 - 2; a Grades 3 - 4, and a Grades 5 - 6. This major-youth-sports program is such a constructive, optimistic, and rewarding adventure for any family wanting their kids to be introduced to soccer. I mean, they have uniforms with numbers, they have amazing goals with nets, and they have officials at every game.

I caught up with Darci Berry de Canessa -- a first-time soccer mom. She has a son that started playing soccer two weeks ago. Her husband, Gino, who assists her played soccer in Peru, the sport is huge in that country. Darci played soccer back in 1991 when she was in the first grade, and continued playing for seven years. Her mom, Loni, volunteered to coach her soccer team and ended up coaching Darci for the next seven years.

"Yeah, it was one of those things where I said that I would only coach if no one else would. I was named the coach of my daughter's team," Loni said.

 2017 Darci Berry de Canessa instructs her PeeWee League soccer team.

2017 Darci Berry de Canessa instructs her PeeWee League soccer team.

We definitely need more parents to volunteer as coaches, and it doesn't matter what sport the child is playing. Darci volunteered to be a coach for the PeeWee Co-Ed League. She has a three-year-old son and a four-year-old son. As I was watching her, I noticed a lot of her compassion toward these kids. She talked to them in a very nice way, and at the same time, firm and with helpful instructions. I can't imagine the challenges with three-year-olds. Some cried after getting knocked down by another player. Some of her team members would run to their parents. She would run after them and encourage them to try again.

"How about you kick the ball once to start the second half, and then if you don't want to play anymore, that's okay," Darci smiled and looked at the little boy.

The little boy smiled and kicked the ball to start the second half. He then ran over to his mom and gave her a big hug. After that it seemed easier for him to go back in the game. He felt no pressure and started having fun, which is what youth sports is all about.

It was so much fun watching her team and the positive coaching style she had. She knew the game well because she played years ago, and her first-time coaching had surpassed expectations. She instills the vital part of why kids go out for sports, to have fun!                

 2017 Kids having fun chasing after the soccer ball at Centennial Park in Woodburn.

2017 Kids having fun chasing after the soccer ball at Centennial Park in Woodburn.

 "The Woodburn Parks and Recreation program has been a very fun and positive experience. I am coaching one of the PeeWee League teams, three to five year-olds. For many kids this is their first time ever being on a team, and for others the first time kicking a ball. The Woodburn soccer program provides an engaging and enjoyable first-time experience for these youngsters. In just the second game I've seen so many of them improving in their confidence and in their soccer skills," Coach Darci Canessa said.       

Parenting The Athlete

The Guptill family is finding "Parenting The Athlete" to be a useful book with full of great tips on making sports fun and competitive. The priority is "fun" and why most kids go out for sports. Unfortunately, there are so many things happening right now in the world of sports that are alarming. Winning has become the most important thing to many coaches, parents, athletes, and schools. This has taken the fun out of many kids.

 2017 The Guptills with their book, "Parenting The Athlete"

2017 The Guptills with their book, "Parenting The Athlete"

"I loved the book and I feel every parent, guardian, and coach should read it! As I was reading chapter after chapter I kept telling myself, 'I never thought of that!'. The true stories in every chapter supporting what the author wrote were educational and fun to read about. I'm so thankful for getting this book!" Celeste Guptill said.    

As an author nothing makes me feel better than to write something that will help parents and provide them with helpful tips and true-short-story situations that they can learn from. I've been an athlete, a coach, and most importantly, a parent. To be honest, parents will read my book and decide what's best for their families, as it should be. I've written fifteen chapters identifying key issues in today's sports and tips on a better direction. Coach Noza, a reliable source, was one of my editors and such a huge help with my content.

I'm not going to be the first person to pick up that stone and throw it. I’ve been around sports for many moons. I was a competitive person in my days, but never thought of the example I was setting to the young kids. Over the years I’ve learned so many things and I want to help in any way I can to make your experience a fun and productive one.

We as parents sometimes want to live our dreams through our kids. Allow them to discover what they enjoy and support them on it. Help them set objectives to eventually reach a goal in the near future.

I also feel like parents that get involved in sports should make an effort to look at sports in positive ways that are enjoyable, rewarding, and fun. That's why the majority of kids go out for sports ...  to have fun! Focus more on the skill-development aspect of your child and discuss the improvements they are making every game. Talk about the great things they did in a game and then bring up the skills they could improve on.

Being a good sport isn’t just about controlling our tempers with officials, but it’s also about thinking of other players on the team and not just your own son or daughter. Cheer for every player on the team – football and basketball are team sports not individual sports. Every kid on that team has put in hours of practice all week long – they’ve helped the team get better.

If your child is a multi-sport athlete, pay attention to how much he or she is being over worked. Young bodies are still developing and stress fractures are at risk when the bones are still growing. I can't wait for you to read that chapter.   

We’re not perfect, we’re only human. But it’s important that we try our best to set a good example for our younger generation – Lord knows this world really needs it. Sports seasons are supposed to be fun and exciting – although we all want to win, the reality is that one team will end up losing after the game is over.

This is just a little preview on my new book, there is so much more that is covered in the book. You probably already know some of the things that are going on in sports, but it's impossible to know everything.

Go out and support your local grade school, middle school, or college team. Buy refreshments to help the booster clubs – you can’t watch a game without food … or at least I can’t.

I feel that one of the most important things a parent can do is “listen” to your son or daughter and "support" your son or daughter. Ask them if they are having fun and ask how you can help support their passion.

I'm always glad to answer any questions you might have, please email me at espi42@comcast.net

Have a fun and rewarding experience with sports this season, I wish every parent or guardian, and child the best. God bless.

2003 McNary Celtics Define March Madness

March madness is my favorite time of the year. Many high school athletes put in a tremendous amount of hard work to arrive at this exciting moment. Sacrifices, sweat, cheers and tears. The fans go crazy when their team advances each game. The joy of continuing the playoff ride to a possible state birth is an experience never to be forgotten.

In March of 2003 there were six seniors that had played together since the grade school days. Josh Erickson, Ryan Rufener, and Robbie Wood played on their school’s tournament team (A Team). Matt Espinoza (Noza), Jared Wick, and Keith McCallister played on the school’s tournament team (A Team and B Team).

I know for a fact, that Matt, Robbie, and Jared spent countless hours at the Courthouse Athletic Club – it was their second home. Josh spent hours of practicing elsewhere including practices with tournament teams. Ryan was a kid that had natural ability, I never saw him at the athletic club, but I’m sure he was grinding elsewhere.

All of these kids had a drive to get better fundamentally – to learn the basketball skill sets required for them to eventually be part of a varsity high school team. For them it started with good coaching – not only on the basketball court but off the court as well. At the grade-school level defense was stressed – a big part of the game. Team work was always brought up and spending time together off the court was a huge a benefit. They would get together for barbeques or a day at the river.

By their freshman year they were all playing on the same team at McNary High School in Keizer, Oregon – which sits right next to Salem, Oregon. Josh, Ryan, and Robbie were all very advanced on their skills, but Matt, Keith, and Jared were still learning and improving everyday.

They were all decent shooters, but the most consistent were Matt, Josh, Ryan, and Robbie. It was all due to practice. If a player has the desire to get better, he will learn the fundamental way to shoot the basketball and he will put the necessary time in. I can’t count the number of times that my son, Matt, practiced in the backyard until it was dark. He requested that I put in a spotlight for him so he could practice shooting into the late hours. I’m pretty sure the others practiced similarly.

In 2003, their senior year, Head Coach Jim Litchfield acquired a group of boys that were well prepared and that believed in themselves – they were ready to compete in the Valley League Conference (which is now the GVC). There were 10 teams in the league back then, McNary; Crescent Valley; McKay; Sprague; South Salem; North Salem; West Albany; South Albany; West Salem, and Corvallis. Some of the teams had players as tall as 6’ 9”. Our tallest players were Matt Espinoza who grew from 5’ 7” as a freshman to 6’ 4” as a senior and Keith McCallister who also grew to be 6’ 4”. Ryan also grew to be 6’ 4” but the McNary guards were all 5’ 10” or shorter.

The Statesman Journal Newspaper predicted McNary to place fourth because of their size. These six seniors along with Malik Parker-Hill (a sophomore) were thinking a little different. West Albany was ranked first, South was ranked second, and Crescent Valley third.

Some of the boys were dealing with something at home. Two examples … Robbie was dealing with a dysfunctional family at home – his teammates kept him going. Matt was dealing with losing his mom to brain cancer. If you read my book, Noza: A True Basketball Success Story, you’ll get the full experience of his story and the McNary Celtic’s adventure. Basketball was a form of counseling for some of these boys – a positive thing.

During the regular season, McNary was starting to prove to everyone that they were among the top teams in the Valley League. They only lost two games during the regular season – one to West Albany and one to South Salem. They tied the longest winning streak in the state – 16 straight wins.

The Celtics became the Valley League Champions and earned a birth to the OSAA State Tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, where the Trailblazers used to play (now there's a new coliseum, the Moda Center). These boys loved the game of basketball and the joy was displayed on their faces every game.

 2003 - Matt Espinoza at the OSAA 6A State Tournament

2003 - Matt Espinoza at the OSAA 6A State Tournament

As one of the parents, I couldn’t have been more proud of what they had achieved. At the coliseum, there were several seats reserved for all the parents to sit together. One of the parents took charge and organized that part. If anyone ever gets this opportunity, I guarantee it will be a memory that you will never forget.

McNary was facing the Barlow Bruins in the first round of the state tournament. Barlow had 6’ 5” Jeff Bell and 6’ 9” Tyler Otis. Matt Espinoza who was playing post at 6’ 4” had his work cut out. The blocking out and positioning earned him 10 rebounds. Ryan Rufener finished with 18 points. Josh Erickson and Robbie did a great job shooting and handling the ball as well. The Celtics won 56 – 46. The crowd went wild and the adventure continued.

In the second round of the state tournament McNary was facing number-three-ranked Jesuit – a powerhouse team who had the Tarver brothers, Josh, Seth, and Zach. The game was a battle to the end, Jesuit gave the Celtics their first loss in 16 games. Jesuit got by with a 74 – 67 win. The Celtics were still alive for the fourth place trophy but they had to win Friday and Saturday.

On Friday, they dismantled South Medford, 62 – 46 and on Saturday they convincingly beat the Southridge Skyhawks by plucking them, 67 – 44. The Celtics had won the fourth place trophy. All the years of hard work paid off for the McNary Celtics.

They set several records for the school, but the biggest one was 25 wins and 3 losses. I’ll never forget that year – it was an amazing ride all season long. There will be another group of kids this year that will experience the same adventure. I can say that I will be happy for them because it’s such a fun and rewarding experience. And I definitely plan on going to the Chiles Center at the University of Portland to watch some of the games. I'm really disappointed that the state tournament isn't held at the Moda Center. Come on Paul Allen, can't you donate to 6A Boys and Girls Basketball? It's only a few days.

Matt Espinoza went on to play college basketball at Southern Oregon University and minor-league-professional basketball. Josh Erickson went on to play at Willamette University. Robbie Wood went on to play at Chemeketa C.C. Ryan Rufener went on to play college football at OSU and then professional football overseas. Jared Wick went on to play college football at SOU. Keith McCallister went on to play college football back east somewhere. Malik Parker-Hill played college basketball at Umpqua C.C.

This time of the year is so exciting, March Madness! And every year I think about the time both my boys, Matt and Jake, played at the state tournament. Jake in 2001 and Matt in 2003. What a true blessing and accomplishment. I will never regret what I went through as a parent of two athletes -- I would do it all over again in a split second.

McKay Basketball has Four Boys on Senior Night

For parents and athletes, senior night can be a bittersweet ending to a high-school career in any sport. This is the last time some of these kids will see each other -- the last time they will play together on a high school team.  At McKay High School there are four seniors that I would like to recognize, Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels, and Noah Tavera.

The last game of the regular season is tonight, Tuesday Feb. 21, 2017. McKay plays South Salem -- a tough team. In order for McKay to win, they will have to play a good game all four quarters. No matter what the outcome might be, McKay has a chance to play in post season. If all of the selections and situations happen with the state rankings, we will be watching McKay in post season. The GVC has already been labeled as one of the toughest conferences. With a win tonight it will be more of a guarantee. Good luck Scots!   

 From left, Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels, and Noah Tavera. At the bottom is Manager Bailey, thanks for your hard work, Bailey!  

From left, Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels, and Noah Tavera. At the bottom is Manager Bailey, thanks for your hard work, Bailey!  

Let's start with #24, 5' 11" Hayden Hull. I've known Hayden since his sophomore year. Hayden is fearless, he attacks and plays defense like there's no tomorrow. A lot of people don't know that Hayden had surgery two weeks before basketball tryouts this year. He played in the first game of the season and did very well. That's who he is, he doesn't give up and he loves the game. This year he has hit some huge three-point shots to help the Scots win big games. He's had some amazing steals and finished lay-ups. Hayden is one of the nicest kids I've met at McKay. If Hayden wishes to pursue playing basketball at a community college, I really feel he can with some extra summer training -- he works hard and he is a fast kid with a nice shot. Best of luck, Hayden, I enjoyed watching you play and grow as a young man.

What can I say about #5, 5' 4" Josiah Castillo? Wow, this kid has range on his three-point-splash shots. Josiah is a quiet kid, but I've seen how his talking happens on the basketball court. I remember when he was interviewed on CCTV, a local TV station. I think John Piper did most of the talking, Josiah said maybe three words. This kid is a competitor and always gets back up when knocked down by a 6' 7" player. Josiah has a natural gift of hitting the big three-point shot. I remember watching him release the basketball before tryouts when he was a freshman -- nothing but net -- effortlessly. He is one of the reasons McKay was able to beat highly ranked teams like South Salem and West Salem. Josiah is another kid that, I feel, can play community college basketball. Thanks for the exciting games you played Josiah, it was fun watching you hit some of the thirty-footers. I'm wishing you the best in your near future.

The next player I want to recognize is #1, 5' 11" Shaton Daniels. Shaton, nickname "Bam" has been with the McKay Basketball Team for two years. During tryouts of his junior year I didn't know who he was or where he came from. All I knew was that this kid was fast and energetic. I never knew of a kid that was injured and then one minute later he was healed. I remember one time I saw him limping a little. I walked over and asked, "Shaton, you okay?" He replied, "No, I pulled my groin." Then a minute later the coach had everyone run lines. Shaton zoomed pretty fast and was one of the top five finishers. In one of my previous blog posts, I wrote Shaton's story. If you haven't read it yet, please do so. Shaton has overcome so much -- his family moved from New Jersey. Shaton is one of the hardest workers on the basketball court. A lot of people may not know that he is also a great mathematician. Shaton can play basketball at the next level if he chooses to strive for that dream. He is fast and can finish baskets with lightning speed. Best of luck in whatever you pursue, Bam, you can achieve it.

The fourth senior basketball player is #4, 5' 9" Noah Tavera. When I first saw Noah during his freshman year, I really thought he looked like Fred Savage (actor and brother of Ben Savage from "Boy Meets World"). Anyway, Noah has been such a huge asset to the basketball program. He is one tough scrapper on the basketball court. I was worried that he might not play basketball this season due to his baseball dream. I'm sure I can speak for many -- we were all glad he did play. One of my favorite plays that Noah executed was when he hit two back-to-back And 1's against North Salem. We were struggling as a team to that point. He turned that game around for the Scots. He is a competitor at any sport he plays. Noah went through a rough time last year when he lost his dad to cancer. I know that it will be tough for him and his family on senior night, but I also know that his dad would have been so proud of Noah's senior year and how far he has come, not only as a decent young man, but also as a senior leader on the basketball court. I'm excited to write Noah's story pre-baseball season -- I'll keep you posted. Congrats to Noah, your future is bright, never give up!

I would also like to recognize the coaching staff, Dean Sanderson, Matt Espinoza, and Jack Martino. These coaches sacrifice so many hours of their own time to help these young men become who they are, not only good basketball players, but also decent young men. It's difficult to stick to rules at times, and I appreciate that at McKay, if you don't follow team rules, well, you're not going to be playing. This teaches kids to be accountable for mistakes made during the season. This will help them become remarkable people. In a future job, the employer will have work policies. These young men will follow those policies because of lessons learned during their high school sport's days. Thank you coaches for showing love to these seniors.    

My final thoughts are for the parents of these amazing young men. Thank you to all of you for supporting your sons and the basketball program at McKay, for attending their games; taking them to practice; feeding them; disciplining them; keeping them in school; laughing with them; crying with them; sacrificing your social events for them; buying basketball shoes, and keeping them educated. These kids have managed to make it through high school with passing grades. This success reflects on you, the parents -- you are a big part of it. Give yourselves a pat on the back, you've done well. You showed so much love for your senior kids, they will remember it forever, trust me.

New Release, Parenting The Athlete

A new book release.

Thank you to my editors, Matt Espinoza and Loni Espinoza. Thank you to my graphic designer, Jake Espinoza -- remarkable job on the cover! Thank you to Tyson and Kaleb, my cover models. And thank you to all of the coaches, referees, parents, and schools who touched my life in one way or another. Writing this book was possible because of my knowledge and lessons learned while parenting my two boys in the world of sports.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  

Are you a parent or guardian that has a child in grade school, middle school, or high school that plays sports? If your answer is yes, then this book is a must read.

The number one reason kids go out for sports is to have fun! In today's competition world things have really changed. The focus seems to be on winning at all costs. Parents are pressuring their kids. Athletes are transferring out of their schools as coaches try to build powerhouses. This book will help you, as a parent, avoid the dark side that could leave your child depressed and unhappy. The author has pinpointed crucial issues and resolutions. Read about helpful tips, for you as a parent, to guide your child in a fun adventure in sports. Learn about what it takes to be a good sport as a parent or as an athlete. The author writes about true experiences that will be of value as you discover a successful and productive ride with your children in the world of sports.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask, Just send me an email at espi42@comcast.net   ...  or you can leave a comment as well, thank you!

McKay High School Basketball is a New Home for Shaton Daniels

When anyone watches Shaton Daniels dribble the basketball at lightning speed, they must wonder how he doesn't lose control of the rock. I'm guessing he probably runs the forty-yard dash in about 4.5 or 4.6 seconds, with the basketball maybe 4.7 seconds. At 5' 11" wearing number one, Shaton has played such a huge role as the point guard for the McKay Royal Scots in Salem, Oregon. He is one of the reasons the team's overall record is ten wins and three losses. In GVC (Greater Valley Conference), it's four wins and one loss thus far.

Shaton Daniels Jr. was raised in the south side of Elizabeth, New Jersey. His dad is Shaton Sr. and his mom is Tanequa. He has a younger sister, Shanai, and an older sister, Jazymne. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and knew which areas to stay away from. He developed a friendship with many kids in the area. Shaton was also very close to his cousins.

Shaton goes by the nickname, "Bam". When his mom ran track in high school, that was her nickname. Tanequa's coaches and friends called her Bam, she must have been quite the athlete in her days. Tanequa gave birth to Shaton while still in high school. She decided to pass on the nickname to her son.

When he was a six year-old, a friend's brother invited him to come play basketball in the park with everyone else. This friend saw the athleticism and he started encouraging Shaton. This was an inspiration to start playing the game of basketball.

"I always liked football and never played basketball. But this guy kept telling me that I could really be a good player if I worked at it more, so I started playing more with my friends, " Shaton said.    

Shaton attended Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Christopher Columbus Middle School in New Jersey. It was during middle school that he started playing organized basketball for the school. He also played on an AAU team called the Pirates Elites. Not having the funds for travel expenses, his family would go door-to-door asking for donations. They raised enough money for him to be part of the team. It's expensive to play on an AAU team, uniforms; hotels; meals; shoes, and fees. Their door-to-door option worked. The Daniels family went on to help one of Shaton's friends raise money. His friend did not have the money to play on the team and really wanted to.

"I like helping people, and I was glad that my friend was able to play on the team with me, he really wanted to so bad, " Shaton said.  

When he was promoted to high school his parents wanted to focus on a high school that would prepare him for college classes. They enrolled him at Alexander Hamilton High School -- a prep school. This school had many students that lived in upper-class neighborhoods, which was the contrast from where Shaton lived.

"That was definitely tough for me. The kids were different, we had to wear uniforms to school and all, I really didn't like that part, I found a way to adjust. I liked the school because of the courses that would prepare me for college," Shaton said.

In New Jersey, the competition is a little tougher as far as making the high school basketball team. Thousands of kids try out from all five schools in the area. Shaton tried out as a freshman, but the result was not good, he was cut from the team. He was very disappointed because he really loved basketball and wanted to play on a team.

Shaton is a laid-back and quiet type of kid. He is always observing and thinking. He likes to joke around in a quiet way, but definitely not in a bubbly way. He is a driven person that wants to succeed in anything he does.

In the year 2014 things got a little dark for Shaton -- he struggled emotionally with what was happening, not just getting cut from the team, but another thing that was even more serious. He was very close to his cousin, Quadriqe Pretlow, they would hang out together many times. During school Quadriqe was bullied by many people, he was called names that I won't write on here. This left Shaton sad and discouraged.

"People picked on Quadriqe in school every day calling him names. He eventually committed suicide by hanging himself," Shaton said.

The neighborhood that Shaton lived in started going downhill and the violence was getting worse. It wasn't safe to live there anymore and his parents started thinking of how they could move out of the area. With friends and family there it was not an easy choice to make. They had been a part of that community for many years.

Shaton always talked to his mom and dad about Oregon and how he loved the University of Oregon's colors and uniforms. He would hint to his parents that some day he would love to attend college in Oregon somewhere. One day his mom asked him, "How would you like to go to school in Salem, Oregon?"

"I was like, really? I couldn't believe it! That was like a dream come true for me," Shaton said.

The Daniels moved their entire family to N.E. Salem, Oregon, where they have embraced the community. His dad landed a job in construction and his mom enrolled in the nursing program at Chemeketa Community College.

A big change like that is not easy, especially for a quiet kid like Shaton. Coming into McKay High School was a challenge, he had to open up and ask people questions. He was not familiar with the surroundings, the people, or the staff. It was somewhat of a culture shock to him.

That all changed when, as a junior, he tried out for the varsity basketball team. His speed and ball handling was noticed right away. Shaton made the team and his spirits were lifted so high that it put a huge smile on his face. Shaton and his family are adapting to the community and finding some light to their huge change, not only in a geographical area, but also in the diverse people they are around. Now in his senior year, Shaton has exploded to becoming a major contributor of his basketball team.

 #1 Shaton Daniels flies past a McNary defender. Photo by Kent Brewer

#1 Shaton Daniels flies past a McNary defender. Photo by Kent Brewer

Shaton is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen, he picks up skill sets rapidly. I've had the pleasure of being around him and watching him play, not only at practices, but at games as well.

Assistant Coach Matt Espinoza says, "Shaton has made a huge improvement as a basketball player from last season to this season. It's all thanks to the commitment he made to showing up to off-season workouts. I'm excited to see how his senior year develops in the coming months."

One of Shaton's most memorable moments in basketball happened this season during the McKay-North Salem game where he dropped 24 points in one night helping his team cruise to a GVC win.

"I had never scored 24 points in a game. That was definitely a great moment, but playing for McKay with these guys is a greater moment. We trust each other -- it's a great bond. I've never had a team like this. Coming from New Jersey I didn't know anyone, and now with basketball, I was able to make friends and I was able to feel welcomed and accepted," Shaton said.

 Shaton (far right) and the 2016-2017 McKay Varsity Basketball Team. 

Shaton (far right) and the 2016-2017 McKay Varsity Basketball Team. 

Shaton is still learning on the basketball court, his progress has been a vital part to the team and it's success this season. At every practice and every game Shaton puts in a one-hundred percent effort and nothing less.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson says, "Shaton has really grown up from last year. We are able to count on him to give great effort and we know he will be out on the floor at the end of close games. I believe he is one of the most improved players in the league. I'm excited to see what is next for him as he concludes his high school basketball career in the next few months."

While Shaton is very active in sports playing wide receiver in football and point guard in basketball, he is also focused on not getting distracted from his studies. He enjoys studying at home where it's quiet and he can concentrate. Getting good grades is something he takes seriously.

Join me in wishing Shaton Daniels the best in his senior year and in his future. And if you can, come to a McKay High School basketball game -- you won't be disappointed.

Shaton, what is your favorite subject in school?

Math and History

What is your short-term goal?

I want to help our basketball team make the playoffs. And I'd like to graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA.

What is your long-term goal?

I'd like to get a job that has to do with numbers since I like math, maybe an engineer someday. I'd also like to play college sports.

What are your hobbies?

I like playing videos games, listening to music -- hip-hop. I also like hanging out with my teammates.

What advice can you give a young athlete?

Keep working hard and don't give up. Stay motivated, if you think you can do it, you will.

What is something no one knows about you?

I always wanted to play baseball. The problem was that I asked my parents if I could play all the sports. They couldn't afford all of the sports, so they gave me two choices. I picked football and basketball.

A Thrilling Finish for McKay Boys at the Abby's Holiday Classic

Early this month I wrote about McKay High School and their obstacles. The type of kids that attend the school and the resilience that many acclaim is inspiring. I had the honor of traveling to Medford, Oregon, with my wife to watch the Abby's Holiday Classic -- an annual tournament that's held every year for eight teams. Thank God the weather was cooperating and we didn't run into any snow or ice during this four-hour drive.

A few parents made the long drive and were not disappointed with the outcome. Thank you to those parents -- you know who you are. I'm pretty sure we all had an exciting time watching these remarkable and athletic kids play the game of basketball.

On Tuesday December 27, 2016, the McKay Royal Scots loaded up the small Salem/Keizer van and headed to Medford, Oregon. Thanks to Coach Noza for driving the boys there and back safely. I'm not making excuses but when our team has a 4 -1 record with a recent defeat of a highly-ranked West Salem team in a GVC Conference game, well, maybe the boys were just a little over confident. With a long Christmas break due to bad weather and only having one practice before tip off against a hostile home-team crowd, we were hoping for the best.

Yes, McKay's first game was against the host team of that tournament. The entire gym rooting for North Medford, and maybe seven parents rooting for McKay. Playing a game after a long drive can be a strong challenge, especially against a powerful Medford team. Despite all of that the boys played hard and did bounce back a little from a poor first quarter, just not enough. I don't want to take anything away from North Medford because they did outshoot us and they were more prepared to play than we were. So McKay loses the first game by nineteen points. This definitely woke them up.

The following day, Ashland, Oregon was waiting for us -- another local team. This time the boys had some rest from the long trip and were able to collect themselves. Coaches Dean Sanderson and Matt Espinoza were strategizing to stay in this tournament for a trophy. During the warm-up drills, David Kovalenko stepped on Drioji Joel's foot and sprained his ankle severely -- luckily the X-rays showed no break -- thank God. The Royal Scots were now without a good shooter and shot blocker. The game was close and leads were exchanged throughout, but in the second half, McKay took over. The press, the three-point shots, the fast break opportunities that McKay capitalized on because of their speed and quickness, was too much for the Ashland Grizzlies. One of the highlights of the game was a monster dunk, by our tallest player, #22 Jordan Sampson. The McKay Royal Scots defeated Ashland, 99 - 87, and advanced to the next day's fourth-place trophy game against a talented Reynolds High School team.

That evening Abby's provided free pizzas for our entire team, Thank you Abby's Pizza for sponsoring this tournament and providing pizza for our team. Abby's Pizza does this every year for the eight teams that play in the tournament. This year it was McKay; North Medford; South Medford; Oregon City; Ashland; Reynolds; Roseburg; and Forest Grove. 

Thursday at 1:45pm, #31 Ryan Bangs, jumps the ball against a Reynolds player to get the game started. This was one of the most exciting games I've watched in a while. Yes, of course, the Oregon - UCLA game the night before was electrifying too! McKay and Reynolds are two fast-break-running teams that were so fun to watch. Reynolds was shooting the ball at a very high percentage and McKay was struggling just keeping up. Trailing in the first half the Scots never gave up, and their full-court press created roughly 5 consecutive steals, if not more, to take the lead. But Reynolds hung in there when McKay hit a cold streak of shooting in the early fourth quarter -- nothing was going in. Reynolds' excellent shooting climbed them back to tie the game, 99 - 99 ... with only three seconds left in the fourth quarter -- wow! It was McKay's ball and #14 Andre Tavor had the green light with a look at the fifteen-foot jumper. The ball bounced out of the rim! Hayden Hull jumps up very high, I mean this kid can get up there, and he matches the Reynolds' player. Unfortunately, the referee called a foul on Hayden with .03 seconds left. We all just took a swallow.

Reynolds had not missed a free shot in the last eight visits to the stripe. McKay had ten team fouls, the opponent would get two free throws. Head Coach Dean Sanderson calls time out right before the free throws to make this kid think about it more. The entire gym was quiet, then a few people started yelling, "Miss it ... miss it!" The first shot rattled in and out of the rim. I knew it was going to be tough for this kid to make the next one -- the pressure. The second shot went up and bounced out of the rim again, while both teams scrambled for the rebound the time expired and the game went into overtime!

The McKay boys went on a shooting exhibition during the overtime, everything was clicking like an automatic transmission. Castillo was hitting threes -- nothing but twine, Khyler was hitting free shots and threes, Andre was hitting free throws, Israel was driving and finishing lay ups. Shaton Daniels was running the floor at lightning-speed like there was no tomorrow. Everyone was contributing. The final score was McKay 115, Reynolds 102. McKay had six players in double figures, Shaton Daniels, Josiah Castillo, Andre Tovar, Khyler Beach, Isreal Garza, and Hayden Hull. Everyone on the rotation scored and contributed. This is one reason why I feel McKay has a legit shot to play in post season this year. They play with a lot of heart, they play as a team, and they don't give up. Their winning record is now at 8 wins and 2 losses.

Abby's Pizza, the tournament sponsor, called the McKay/Reynolds game the highlight of the tournament. I have to agree with them. It's not often you see both high-school teams score over one hundred points in one game.

I'm inviting everyone in NE Salem to come out and watch McKay Basketball, you won't be disappointed. This Saturday Dec. 31 at 3:00 p.m. they play Crescent Valley. This team is #8 in the state in Class 5A. Please ask a friend to come watch with you. Let's try to pack the gym. This is fun and exciting, and a great community event. Thank you and hope to see you at all of the games. Go Scots!   

McKay Boys Basketball on the Rise Despite Obstacles

McKay High School is located in the northeast side of Salem, Oregon. The area is very diverse which brings many ethnicities with their cultures into the school enrollment of roughly 2000 students, give or take a few hundred - grades nine through twelve. There are Islanders, Asians, Latinos, and Blacks (pardon my political incorrectness, I mean, African Americans). The Whites are the minority at this school. Pretty much the entire student body is on the free-lunch program.

Sports programs outside of the school are simply not heard of due to many families struggling financially or just simply being in dysfunctional situations. I've supported the basketball program there for the last five years in several ways. The McKay area has some pretty amazing people that do the best they can during the off season -- whether it be mentoring or training young athletes that show up. There are a few athletes that put in work in the summer because of the passion they have for the sport. Other schools in the area are blessed with more finances and parents that are more involved. These kids will always have the edge on McKay-bound kids. Other schools in the area develop their young athletes at a younger age in most cases. When they finally enter high school their skill sets are more mastered than a lot of the McKay kids.

McKay's facilities cannot compete with most of the Salem schools, or other schools in the Greater Valley Conference -- McKay's league. The dressing rooms are old and need updating. The hallways are crowded. At every game, visitors that come into the small bathrooms that badly need an uplift, aren't too impressed with the facilities. Half of the time there aren't paper towels available. The weight room is small and the equipment is old. They don't even have a stationary bike in there. Outside of the school, on the walkway, the concrete is falling apart with potholes everywhere. I almost took a spill walking through there one night -- there's not much light through the back door of the gym.

I've given you a small taste of what it's like at McKay High School. Some athletes have left McKay High School for better opportunities with other schools. That's right, we've had some pretty tall kids with talent that have transferred out of McKay to seek winning teams and a chance to make it to the state tournament. I've also seen many kids walking the hallways that are athletically built, but for some reason they don't go out for sports.

My son, Coach Noza, started coaching at McKay six years ago. He is the assistant varsity coach. Dean Sanderson is the head coach. I support my son in his coaching adventures and I usually adopt the team and support them in anyway I can. This year there are sixteen amazing kids on the varsity basketball team -- including a few kids that swing from JV. I have gotten to know each one of those kids by hanging out at the practices, attending the games, and driving to watch the away tournaments -- summer league or regular season. I observe many situations, and the past few years I have witnessed how all of these kids have worked so hard. The sacrifices and sweat, the beating they have taken from schools like South Medford, South Salem, West Salem, Sprague, McMinnville, and many more, has been tough. It has also been tough on the coaching staff.

 2016-2017 McKay Boys Varsity Team and Coaches.

2016-2017 McKay Boys Varsity Team and Coaches.

This year the team is loaded with juniors that have gained solid experience in their sophomore years, Drioji Joel; David Kovalinko; Andre Tovar; Khyler Beach; Damian Rios; Israel Garza; Ryan Bangs, and Levi Beaty. There are four seniors this year that are solid and have mastered several skill sets throughout the years, Shaton Daniels; Noah Tavera; Josiah Castillo; and Hayden Hull. The tallest player on the McKay roster is Jordan Sampson, a junior who is working hard earning his way into the line up. Another junior added to the roster is Pharoah Williams, a hard worker that can hold his own ground.

I have seen Ryan Bangs dunk the ball. I have seen Jordan Sampson dunk the ball. I have seen Israel Garza dunk the ball. I have seen Shaton Daniels almost dunk the ball. I have seen David Kovalinko dunk the ball. I have see Khyler Beach almost dunk the ball. These kids aren't very tall, but they have mad hops. They are all very athletic -- that's what will help them compete in the GVC this year. I really feel that their heart will pull them through a successful season in 2016-2017. 

 Seniors: Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels (Bam), Noah Tavera, and manager Bailey.

Seniors: Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels (Bam), Noah Tavera, and manager Bailey.

This season will be fun to watch, just like it was last season. When you come watch McKay basketball, you won't be disappointed. They are a running team and play a fast-pace game that will leave you entertained by the time the game ends.

I can't say enough about Dean Sanderson and his coaching staff. What they've done with these kids is pretty remarkable. Over the years I have seen my son, Coach Noza, take a group of kids to the state tournament at the Moda Center. I guess the district is making it tough for the coaches to continue this for insurance purposes or something like that. Last year was the first time we didn't take players to watch games at the state tournament in Portland. Some of these kids had never seen the Moda Center. They received that opportunity a couple of years ago, it encouraged them for the following year. I think Ryan Bangs was a freshman the last time we went to the Moda Center. The OSAA 6A State Tournament is now held at the University of Portland.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson has a full-time job outside of coaching that keeps him busy. Despite that I've always seen him around the gym even during the summer. He's always involved in whatever is happening, it doesn't matter what time of the year it is, he'll come by and do whatever he can to help or to give pointers. Coach Noza works with two players at a time during the off season -- he puts in a lot of volunteer hours for these kids to improve and to teach them skill sets and good human-being values -- to be decent people when they leave high school. I really admire these two guys, what an example they are setting for these kids.

This season, Assistant Coach Jack Martino is joining the team. With his experience and successful history, he will help the team even more. We are rooting for all the coaches to set a positive example for their team and to stay healthy on this long grind -- it's definitely tons of work for some of you that don't have an idea of what coaches go through every season.

The McKay Royal Scots will surprise a lot of people this year. With no real height underneath the basket, they will have what most teams don't. They will have great depth, we're talking ten solid players that have become hungry competitors, I mean, look at Shaton Daniels. This kid dribbles the ball at lightening speed and finishes lay-ins, or hits a big three-pointer. Or Josiah Castillo, don't leave him open at NBA range because he'll knock it down. The defensive effort of Hayden Hull, Israel Garza, and Andre Tovar will bother the opponent so much that a turnover will magically appear. It just goes on and on. I definitely feel that this McKay team has a legit shot at making the playoffs this year. That's right, I said, they have a decent chance to play in post season.

We can sit here and talk about facilities, money, and lower income people living in the Northeast Salem area all we want. That fact is that we are witnessing a group of juniors and seniors that refuse to allow anything to get in their way. They are out on a mission and I see that in their eyes and feel it just watching their practices.

They have started the season with a 2 -1 record losing to powerhouse South Medford by 4 points. This close match has given them a large quantity of confidence. I'm so excited to see this team compete, and the most important thing, to see them have fun playing one of the best sports ever invented.

If McKay basketball has future expectations to rise at the level that other schools are at, the community has to get involved. Assistant Varsity Coach Noza (Matt Espinoza) has taken that first step. He is the executive director and founder of Salem Hoops Project. I am the director of operations and Jordan Carter is the treasurer. This program is a non-profit business and is growing every year with attendance.

Salem Hoops Project is a program that provides free basketball skill-set training to any kid in the Salem area and surrounding areas. Geared toward the NE side of Salem, we welcome any kid that wants to learn basketball skills in a fun and non-pressure environment. The volunteers that help us with this program are amazing! They have a passion for basketball and they are good with kids. We normally ask the high school varsity players from the girls' team or the boys' team. Coach Noza also has former college athletes help at Salem Hoops Project. The point is that our volunteers have a passion for the game and know it well. Who better to learn from? Powerade drinks are provided for kids and sometimes we raffle prizes. So far the kids and parents have loved this idea and many youngsters that couldn't even dribble a basketball are now shooting the basketball and scoring a basket.

The basketball clinics are normally for kindergarten and middle school, and certain series are for high school -- depending on the schedule. For more information on Salem Hoops Project go to www.salemhoopsproject.org ... register your child and receive an email for upcoming free clinics.

We truly need more programs like Salem Hoops Project for these kids that cannot afford fifty-dollar an hour lessons, or three-hundred-dollar basketball camps. They deserve a chance to get the proper skill-set training despite the financial lacking.

I'm really touched by some of the parents that have been walking their kids to Salem Hoops Project clinics when the weather is cold outside. They enjoy it that much and they want their kids to learn the skills.

Come out and support McKay basketball, make it a fun evening for the entire family and friends. And I'm rooting for the McKay Boys' Basketball Team to have a fun and productive season.  

 

Memories of My Christmas Times in Poverty

With the holiday season dashing through the air I'm getting close to turning fifty eight years wiser -- that's right, on December 16, 2016. As I get older I reflect more on some history -- the good old childhood days with my family back in Dimmitt, Texas. We packed up and moved to Oregon back in 1976, wow, seems like yesterday.

The holidays were so much fun for us, my mom was the type of lady that made it fun. She would sing Christmas carols while cleaning the kitchen. The kitchen was a small area with torn vinyl in different spots. All of our appliances were very used when we bought them at garage-sale price. I was one of the kids wearing that floor down with five other kids trampling it every day.

We had quite the bunch, Gilbert, who now likes to be called Gilberto, is the oldest. Guadalupe, who changed his name to Loop is next in line. Maria Louisa, who goes by Louise, is my oldest sister. Then there's me, David, close to a middle child. My younger brother Richard, who I am thankful for, he helped me become the great athlete I used to be. And finally, Diana, the youngest of our family.

I guess the best memories I've collected were the grade-school days, when we were living on the north side of the tracks in the ghetto. The roads were dirt and the neighborhood was lower income. Every year the anticipation of Christmas arriving was exciting. My mom would put up a silver-artificial tree that she kept in a worn box under her bed. My dad just couldn't afford to pay the high prices for a real tree. There were a few years where he bartered for a real and free tree. He was a janitor for years and then became a ready mix truck driver. He was the sole income for the family. It was difficult watching him come home from work looking depressed and very tired. He knew there were bills to pay and food to buy for the family. Most of our clothes were either hand-me-downs, or given to us from the wealthy people on the south side of the tracks.

 The Espinoza family in the 1960s.

The Espinoza family in the 1960s.

There were days where I would come home from school and there would be no food in the cupboards. I try not to remember those days, because to tell you the truth, it is painful to think of the rough life my family once lived. I would often hear my parents argue about money. They would receive phone calls from bill collectors. I wish I didn't have such a good memory, unfortunately I do and I remember a lot of things. I can't wait to write my autobiography, but first I will finish the current book I'm writing.

Bless my mom and my dad. They were a team that knew their roles in a marriage. My mom was optimistic when it came to Christmas, my dad was the pessimistic. Once my mom convinced him to get presents for all the kids, well, my dad joined in with other treats. He would buy a box of oranges for the family. We had two old cars, a Buick and a Ford, they worked most of the time -- thanks to my dad's mechanical inclination. With a foot of snow we'd get every year, he was always busy putting chains on tires and driving us just about everywhere. Heat was a problem at our house. We had this box heater that we'd plug in and it would keep our small two-bedroom home warm.

As grade-school kids we really didn't go anywhere during the holiday seasons. We would just spend time around the house. With patches of ice and snow on the ground we couldn't ride our bikes. My brothers and sisters would all have different ideas of what games to play. Monopoly, sculpturing with clay, checkers, chess, and playing out in the snow. We'd also laugh a lot and fight a lot. It was really tough shooting a basketball in the snow, so we would take a break during Christmas time. We would also read comics and eat some homemade-almond-colored ice cream that my mom made -- it truly was from scratch. It wasn't really ice cream, it was vanilla, sugar, and snow mixed together. I think I'm the only one that didn't like it, everyone else seemed to acquire a taste for this clump of cold sugar. The important thing was the thought. My mom had a heart of gold that made the holiday season a joyous one for all of us.

As Christmas got closer, my dad pounded some nails on our small porch and hung up some Christmas lights. That really excited us even more and all we could think about was presents that we could possibly find under the tree. All of us kids screaming and jumping was over the top. Although Santa is a made-up character, we were told that he existed. When I was in the second grade I figured out that it was just a traditional fiction idea. Christmas is about our Savior Jesus Christ, and celebrating his birth. Santa was just a fun thing for us though.

Any little thing that my dad would come home with was priceless to us. One day he showed up with a package of fireworks. Wow! The colorful-red wrapping that shined against the Christmas lights was such a joy, especially for the boys. We loved fireworks. I loved them until one blasted on my thumb while I was throwing it. My thumb was throbbing all night, very painful. I gained so much respect for these dangerous sticks with a fuse.

I remember people giving us food baskets, walnuts, or some kind of dessert. We ate and ate, we were a bunch of hungry kids with a bottomless pit. My mom would cook beans, rice, and she would make the best homemade tortillas -- she was an expert at cooking Mexican food. I remember us all sitting at the kitchen table. She would throw a tortilla toward the middle of the table and whoever caught it first rejoiced eating while others looked on waiting for the next tortilla to fly. My little sister always cried because she could never catch one. My mom would tear a piece off of one and give it to her. It was a challenge at the dinner table when I was growing up with six kids and one cook.

One thing I'll never forget is watching my mom tear up at the end of the day. She knew we were struggling and she was tired. Every day she would clean the house, wash clothes, iron clothes, cook, discipline her kids, and deal with collectors on the rotary phone. I don't know where she found the energy and stamina all those years. I would say that her prayers kept her going -- the good Lord was there guiding her.

At night she would grab the mattress that was leaning on the kitchen wall and place it on the floor, that's where my dad and her slept every night. I can't even begin to imagine that. The four boys would sleep in one room and the two girls in the other room. The sacrifices that our parents made for us were above and beyond. My mom is no longer alive -- she's with the Lord. If she was here now, I know what I would tell her. Exactly what I've told my dad, who is still alive today. I have already told him how much I love him and I've thanked him for taking care of us when we were growing up.

Despite all of the heartache and uncomfortable living conditions, my mom and dad would find a way to get us all Christmas presents, or as they would say, Santa got them. The charge card at Montgomery Ward or Sears came in handy during the holidays. And, I know they paid them off throughout the rest of the year. They would send in a payment once in a while to keep the collectors from calling.

The only time we didn't get Christmas presents was during that one year we came to Oregon. My dad was unemployed and we were living in that rental house I talked about in my book, "Poor Kid, Wealthy Kid". Other than that, we always had something for Christmas.

We were thankful to have something under the tree on Christmas morning. Every year, half of the kids liked what they got, and the other half didn't like what they unwrapped. So the drama of "I wanted that!" started with some of us. My parents were great at assuming what each kid would want -- they got fifty percent correct. Each kid got a toy, plus underwear and pants, sometimes socks. The boys got a pack of Blackjack Fireworks and the girls got a Barbie Doll. The idea was, "To be surprised Christmas morning". Sometimes that didn't work as well as planned.

I think for me, the best part of the holidays was the food, plus that electric football set I once got when I was in the third grade. The tamales were from heaven. Sometimes my Aunt Juana would help my mom make them all day. Making tamales is definitely a complex process. The hot tamales were wrapped with a red string around them. One year my mom got them mixed up and we were surprised when we took the first bite. The authentic tamales were so good that we ate them all in one day.

I miss those days when my brothers and sisters were little and full of energy and joy. We didn't have a dime in our pockets, but we had each other. We watched TV together, we ate together, we played together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we went to church together. Oh, and yes, we all got into trouble at one time or another, watching the belt on my dad's hand was terrifying. My mom didn't use the belt, she used her hand. I normally didn't see the belt or my mom's hand as much as some of the others, I tried to be a good kid.

The holidays are so much fun, I often wonder what my brothers and sisters are thinking during the holidays. Do they ever think about the good old days in our tiny house? Gilberto lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Loop lives in Kalispell, Montana. Louise lives in Woodburn, Oregon. I live in Salem, Oregon. Richard lives in Keizer, Oregon. Diana lives in Columbia Falls, Montana. We all have families, some of us have grandkids and some of us don't. My dad lives in Otis, Oregon, close to the coast.

I know that with my own family now, we will have a nice Christmas. My wife has two daughters and I have two sons. We have six grandkids now. The holidays are still fun and Christmas is a blessing to us. Sharing the joy of our Savior's birth and celebrating with love toward each other is a Christmas blessing.

While my brothers and sisters are all far away now, I still think about them often. To tell you the truth we all have different values, time has made each one of us the people we have become. We've all made decisions along the way to put us where we're at today. Some are doing very well and others are struggling. I still keep in contact with some through email. The ones I see the most are my brother, Richard and my dad, Wences.

 Richard, Dad, Me

Richard, Dad, Me

During the holidays I always think about where I came from and how we lived with so little, but yet still found a way to smile during the holiday seasons. Precious memories are those that we keep in our hearts forever. Sure, there was a lot of sadness and disappointments, but the Love we had for each other overcame everything miraculously.        

Merry Christmas and Have a Happy New Year!