By Northeast Community Center staff
For the Hollywood Star News
With hands shoved deep in his sweatshirt pockets, the coach intently paces the floor, periodically shouting out, “Pass!” or “Good shot!”
He checks on hurt players, draws his team into huddle, and jokes with his players on the bench, just as quality, seasoned coaches all over the country are doing this basketball season. Except that this coach isn’t that far removed from the bench himself, and he’s coaching seven- and eight-year-olds.
Michael O’Keefe is coaching the Killer Bees at the Northeast Community Center, on the same gym floor where he learned to play basketball as a first grader, when it was the Northeast Family YMCA and his dad was his coach. Less than fifteen years later, Michael’s father, Jim O’Keefe, now sits beside his son as his occasional assistant coach.
Without a single relative on the team, Michael coaches because, as he says, “I love it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.”
As a busy college student holding multiple other responsibilities and jobs, Michael could have declined the invitation to coach young kids as a volunteer. Instead, he fondly remembers looking up into the spectator area to see his own family cheering him on. He explains that he wants to help create the same kind of positive associations with the sport for today’s young players.
As a result, each week on Thursday evenings, Michael has held practices with the Killer Bees in preparation for their weekend games. Even if it meant that he’d miss some critical minutes of his beloved Trail Blazers game or even if it meant missing something else that his age-mates might be doing, Michael has designed practices that help the kids develop. Having played college ball himself, one father of a player on the Killer Bees, Steve Spitznagel, knows what a practice should look like.
“He teaches them the game and uses real drills. To me, that’s important. That and that he’s super positive.” Another parent on the team, Karen Gerber, agrees that Michael has a great rapport with the kids. She acknowledges that at this age, the kids are bound to show improvement, but that Coach Michael makes it a priority to have fun. Gerber says, “He obviously likes kids and basketball.”
Parents in the Northeast have come to rely on NECC to provide this valuable basketball league each fall and winter. They comment that it’s a nice and convenient location, and that the NECC does a good job, even with all volunteer coaches like Michael. Gerber says, “The league allows both the parents and kids to feel like, ‘We can do this!’ when it comes to the challenges of extracurricular sports for a child and his or her family.”
Michael admits that he might be interested in a future in coaching. He already helps coach the freshmen baseball team at his alma mater, LaSalle Prep. Recognizing that high school freshmen have different ways of learning than seven- and eight-year-olds, Michael brings his passion for sports and teamwork to all his practices, regardless of the sport or age of the players. Perhaps this is most evident as Michael, 19 years old, fist pumps the air when a great shot is made – and it’s not even a player on his team.
If you’d like to learn more about playing or coaching in one of NECC’s activities, or you just want to learn more about the community center, additional information may be found at necommunitycenter.org, or at the center on 1630 NE 38th Ave., or by calling 503-284-3377.