Kids learn teamwork and fundamentals in OHYAA

Every winter the same schools hover atop the high school boys basketball standings.

Mount Vernon, Stanwood, Bellingham, Snohomish: all synonymous with success and repeat visits to the state tournament.

The one thing constant among all the aforementioned communities — Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball programs, which provide kids an opportunity to play together from a young age to high school.

Since the mid 90s Oak Harbor has been without a similar program, but a revival is underway.

“We identified to a need to have this,” OHHS boys basketball head coach Bryan Schulle said. “The bottom line is you’re not doing it to stay ahead of other teams, but you’re doing it to stay even.”

Two years ago Schulle approached coaches Dwight Lundstrom and Dale Leach to get an AAU program in motion. Lundstrom and Leach, who both had previous high school state tournament level experience, quickly jumped on board.

“We wanted to be of that caliber and quality (of other regional schools),” Lundstrom said.

As organization presidents Lundstrom and Leach kept the four 5th-8th grade teams functioning the past two years, but due to respective promotions of principal and vice principal at OHHS, had to step down this year.

With Oak Harbor in danger of losing its AAU program again, a new community member stepped in to save the day.

Mike Washington, 33, who arrived one year ago with the Navy, was thrilled to take the reins as president when asked by Schulle, Lundstrom and Leach.

“When I moved here I was looking for basketball — I just really love helping the kids,” the father of two said.

A four-year varsity high school participant at Dodge County High School in Eastman Ga., a Navy intramural participant and youth basketball coach, Washington has spent little, if any, of his life away from the sport.

His passion for basketball and improving its presence in the community became evident right away.

Washington immediately got certified, chased down several sponsors in order to raise money and changed the name of the organization to the Oak Harbor Youth Athletic Association.

“Mike’s doing an awesome job,” Schulle said. “He’s good with the kids, he’s good with the parents — he’s a hard charger.”

In his nine months as OHYAA president Washington has stretched local interest in basketball to year round.

Over the spring, summer and fall, Washington organized Fundy Sunday (skill) clinics, parent/kid camps and brought in organizations from the outside to teach the kids.

“I want the kids to have fun, be disciplined enough to do the right thing all the time, when someone is looking or not looking, and teach them the fundamentals of basketball,” Washington said.

The OHYAA is just about ready to begin its regular season, which runs from December to March. This year nearly 70 kids tried out for the four different age groups. Each team, which participates in upwards of 30 games against teams from Skagit, Snohomish and King counties, can carry up to 12 players.

“I feel real confident in which way the program is going,” Washington said.

Although it certainly helps to play on the teams, Schulle makes it clear that OHYAA is not affiliated with OHHS basketball and it is not a requirement to play on the select teams.

The potential, however, for those who do participate could spell success in the future — possibly enough to make Oak Harbor one of those teams who vies for a league title year after year.

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