CHARLOTTESVILLE — Aaron Spaulding spun his gaze a complete 360 degrees as he stood at center court inside the Eastern Hancock Elementary School gymnasium.
Just wrapping up his 19th annual Royals Father-Son Youth Basketball Clinic on Monday night, the veteran coach let his whistle dangle around his neck freely as nearly a dozen youngsters drove the lane and chucked jumpers with their dads.
With the hour-and-a-half long hoops session complete, few fled the hardwood for the parking lot after Spaulding dismissed the group. Instead, they maximized the opportunity to bond, one dribble at a time.
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“These kids’ No. 1 coach up until junior high really is going to be their dad. The players that have become the most skilled, for the most part it’s their dads that have really worked with them,” said Spaulding, the athletics director and head varsity boys basketball coach at Eastern Hancock High School.
“If dads didn’t necessarily grow up playing basketball or haven’t had any experience coaching, we want to give them some things to work on with their sons,” Spaulding added. “And any time you can get a dad and a son doing things together, it’s good stuff.”
Open to youths in kindergarten through fifth grade, the Royals yearly hoops clinic achieved its goal. Dads and sons listened attentively throughout the evening as Spaulding, who has coached the Royals since 1999, outlined step-by-step instructions on dribbling, shooting, passing and defending.
Once Spaulding set up a practice drill, the fathers lined along the floor took charge and became the coaches, guiding their pint-sized hoopsters on form and fundamentals.
For Chris Zeilinga, an assistant varsity tennis coach at Mt. Vernon High School, the tips and basketball knowledge received from Spaulding was much appreciated. Attending the clinic with his son, Luke, 8, who is a third-grader at Fortville Elementary School, the tandem has spent their recent summers around a backboard.
“I’ve known coach Spaulding for a while, and I love the way he teaches,” Chris Zeilinga said. “(Luke is) really starting to get into it over the last year, and the first time we came here last year was part of the reason that he kind of really enjoyed it.”
The duo also participates in a similar clinic put on at Mt. Vernon by Marauders head varsity boys basketball coach Travis Daugherty. As a result, Luke has become active with his school team and playing summer ball, Chris Zeilinga said. And a big part of his interest in the sport is because of the time he gets one-on-one with his dad.
“It’s fun and I like learning about basketball,” Luke Zeilinga said. “I like basketball a lot. I like shooting and when you get to try to win the game. It feels good to do that.”
Learning new ways to beat his dad is a bonus, Luke joked.
“I try,” Luke said. “I usually beat him.”
On Monday, everyone was a winner, including the Zeilinga’s as they ran the court in unison, worked on two-hand passing drills, transition layups and stopped to talk over the basics with a few laughs.
“That’s the most important thing, having a good time and having fun. If they can pick up some good basketball knowledge, then that’s a bonus,” Spaulding said.
Beyond the occasional blown whistle by Spaulding echoing around the four-walled white, brick bandbox, encouraging chatter followed every missed shot and mishandled pass.
“I don’t care how bad it looks. I just want to see you attempt it,” Spaulding called out as several fathers helped their sons situate their shooting pocket and guide hand placement.
“There you go. You’re getting it,” Spaulding exclaimed. “We want you and your dad to be on the same page.”
The common theme was evident at every corner and around each of the six rims set at varied heights: constructive support and cultivation trumps criticism.
“Nice job,” a few fathers added. “Good work!”
Spaulding never rushed the pace of the kids or their dads as he moved the clinic along with more than eight specific drills offered.
“I’ve done this every year I’ve been here,” Spaulding said. “I was an assistant under Scott Heady at Warren Central, and he did it, so I got it from him. I just grabbed the idea when I came out here and have been doing it ever since.”
In years past, Spaulding pulled double duty, instructing the clinic and working with his twin sons, Jacob and Silas, who are entering the seventh grade this fall. It was a special experience, Spaulding said, one he hopes every one of the families involved with the clinic shares.
“I had them come out here all the way through their elementary years,” Spaulding said. “I even talked them into helping last year.”
Spaulding and his father, Bob, 79, spent countless moments together on the baseball diamond in Aaron’s youth. Today, they remain on the same path with Bob Spaulding keeping the varsity team’s statistics on game nights.
Sports and their bond through athletics, Aaron Spaulding said, was the key.
“One of the main connections I have with my dad was with basketball and it still is one. He’s been our bookkeeper here since 2003,” he said. “With my sons and my daughters, it’s been a real fun connection working together.”
Sports make an impact, Spaulding noted, and it did during the clinic as a few youths came over to the coach to say “thank you” before heading home with their dads.
“We’ve had a lot of our players come through this at some point, so it’s paid dividends,” Spaulding said. “It’s a good way to get to know the kids, the families and the dads.”