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Role models who’ve ‘been there’ lead local youths

Caption
(CNA photo by LARRY PETERSON)
Lindsey (Medders) Fennelly, former Iowa State All-American point guard, demonstrates a two-ball dribbling drill with her eyes closed as Creston High School player Chelcee Downing watches during Fennelly's appearance at the Creston Girls Basketball Camp. She is married to Billy Fennelly, an assistant coach at ISU and son of head coach Bil Fennelly.

Even with near-nightly trips to the ballparks covering local teams, it’s been fun to stray off the beaten path a couple of times to listen in on presentations made by “experts” to local athletes looking to get better.

During Creston’s girls basketball camp, Lindsay (Medders) Fennelly made an energized, motivational visit to encourage the young girls to become their best. The former Iowa State All-American point guard led them through a 45-minute workout and then answered a variety of questions, including her experience in a WNBA training camp.

She was also unforgiving, showing how expectations drive high-level athletics. If the kids’ attention was drifting while she spoke, there were pushups. If she heard whining about a quick transition into another physically challenging drill, there were further consequences.

“Comfortable is average,” she said. “I’m not here to make you comfortable.”

The California native said there’s no secret in becoming better than your peers. You can get there in small doses, if you’re dedicated. Consider it quality over quantity.

“What’s the most important offensive skill?” she asked campers. “Ball-handling. Just 10 minutes a day of dribbling will make a world of difference.”

She then showed a variety of stationary dribbling drills the kids could even do in their homes. Then, she added a two-ball series of dribbles, done with her eyes closed to enhance the “feel” of handling the ball.

As one of the best playmakers in the Big 12 Conference when she played, you can bet Fennelly wasn’t dribbling with her head down!

There’s no way to play at an elite level without having a high fitness quotient and mental toughness, she said, showing them some push-up variations and core plank exercises.

“It’s gonna hurt, it’s gonna burn,” she warned the kids as they began the routine.

Fennelly said she used to go to bed at night flipping the basketball up in the air in a shooting motion while lying down, about 40 times a night.

“Now, kids fall asleep after texting or looking online on their cell phone,” she said. “Is that helping you reach your goal?”

Even with the demands of a Division I program, she used to spend an additional five to eight hours a week on her game beyond the regular practice schedule. Shooting, ball-handling, strength and conditioning made her an All-American and bought her a college education.

Her work ethic was respected by the WNBA team that drafted her, Indianapolis, but in the final analysis she just didn’t have the physical gifts to match other players playing professionally. Now, she trains several athletes involved in the All-Iowa Attack program as they chase their dream.

I loved how she related to the kids and showed enthusiasm, which they soaked up. Coaching is more than X’s and O’s. There’s a psychology involved in being inspirational. She has that gift.

By the end of the hour, those kids would have run through a wall for her. It was fun to watch.

And, of course I really liked her final message, as she pointed to those of us involved in coaching at the daily camp.

“Coaching is the least recognized and appreciated profession I know of,” Fennelly said. “I hope you are appreciative of what they are doing for you!”

For more on her work, see her website: http://www.lyndseyfennelly.com.

•••

When it was raining last Friday morning I was bummed, because I knew former Creston all-stater and University of Iowa baseball player Brian Bucklin was headed up from suburban Kansas City to lead a two-day camp for young ball players here.

Alas, at the final minute, there was enough of a break in the weather to hold the camp, if the kids stayed in the grass and in the batting cages at the SWCC baseball complex.

Bucklin is a pro at leading camps. Besides being a Kansas state champion high school coach at St. James Academy, he has been involved in the highly-respected Thunder baseball development program since he arrived there. He knows how to lead a fast-paced skills camp.

With the help of Creston coach Steve Birchard and several Panther varsity players, the youngsters were kept on the move in improving their game, particularly on their swing.

Just like another wonderful local resource, former SWCC coach Bill Krejci now of USA Baseball fame, Bucklin can break down a baseball swing to its most simple core elements, and improve the way the ball jumps off the barrel.

And, like Fennelly, Bucklin was both inspirational, and demanding. He would pause in mid-sentence and re-establish a connection if he noticed there were attention lapses while he was talking. If he couldn’t see their eyes while he was leading the session, he knew his message wasn’t hitting home.

At the end of the day, he would throw out questions asking what tips they had learned about certain skills, which allowed the campers to reinforce their learning by participating in some give-and-take conversation.

This community has produced some wonderful leaders of young people, including one, Ben Gerleman, who is bringing his Central Lyon basketball team to the SWCC team camp this weekend. Earlier this season, the Creston baseball team visited the Southeast Polk program led by Creston natives Scott Belger and Dave Hartman.

It’s always fun to run into these great people I once covered as high school stars, and see what they’ve made of themselves.

•••

If Creston assistant baseball coach Kyle Wilson, our assistant editor at the News Advertiser, seems a little bleary-eyed these days, he has a good excuse. Kyle and Stormy are the proud parents of a newborn daughter, Harper Lynae.

Seems like a long time ago that I coached a fifth-grade, live-armed Kyle Wilson for the Casey’s West White Sox.

Maybe when I’m an old retired sports scribe, I can help him coach Harper’s team on the same Bill Sears diamond!

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