Roughly 50 parents and prospective players attended a meeting in the auditorium at Clinton Elementary School on Tuesday evening concerning the “Blaze,” the new Clinton City Schools basketball program.
Kelly Johnson, Director of Clinton City Schools said establishing the program is another effort to improve the overall education experience of CCS students and pointed to recent improvements in offerings for fine arts and music.
“We have high academic expectations but we develop well-rounded students,” she said.
Johnson also pointed out establishing the team is not meant to take away from Clinton Middle or any other school.
“The intent is to make opportunities stronger for children. The intent is two-fold. Number one, it’s there to build on personal student talent and being a well-rounded child. Number two, it’s to make athletics stronger in our community. It’s not only about Clinton City Schools, it is about the community,” she said.
Johnson noted that the gymnasium at CES is underutilized but is currently not in condition to host games.
“Number one, we need to refinish our floors. We need new back doors and the bleachers need to be replaced,” she said.
The Blaze will play their games at the Clinton Community Center this season in the hope that needed upgrades for the gym at CES will be completed next season.
Johnson again wanted to offer her gratitude to City Manager Roger Houck for making the Clinton Community Center available.
A student asked why the city is not developing a team for each of the three city schools — CES, North Clinton, and South Clinton. Johnson said if the new program proves to be successful and there is a strong enough response it is something that could happen in the future.
She said the program would be for boys and girls in fifth and sixth grades only.
“We will be playing the sixth grade or JV teams of middle schools. For that reason we decided it might not be wise to put a fourth grader up against a sixth or seventh grader on the basketball court. Now, if we see we thought wrong, we will tweak but this year it’s fifth and sixth grade students only,” Johnson added each team will consist of 12-15 players.
The Blaze will play an abbreviated first season of 10-12 games with the season likely running from mid-October until Christmas break.
Johnson reiterated what she said at a recent school board meeting that the program is going to be free for kids who play. The only thing they are asking is that parents purchase uniform game shoes.
There will be expectations of players, parents, and basketball staff, she said.
“Academics will always come first. If the academics aren’t there, the kid will not get to play,” Johnson said. “If the kid doesn’t come to school, the kid doesn’t practice, the kid doesn’t play.”
“We have to make a promise to ourselves that we model good behavior for our children. We want this to be a positive experience for the kids,” she said.
When talk of developing a basketball program for the city school system started, Johnson said it did not take long to find quality people to run the program.
E.T. Stamey, himself an alumni of CES, will serve as basketball coordinator. The position will be akin to athletic director since basketball is the only sport currently offered by CCS. Johnson also noted the Blaze is an elementary school club, not a middle school team. They are not part of the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association (TMSAA) but they will abide by their regulations.
“I’m excited and I think basketball will fit right in with Clinton City Schools. Nothing will surprise with what happens this year but I want you to know this is a learning curve but we’re only going to do this one way — first class,” Stamey told those assembled.
“We got the best coaches we could have picked out for the youngsters as far as instructional ability and you’ll see that very soon,” he said.
Jeff Little will coach the boys and Terri Kerley will coach the girls.
Little, who serves as assistant chief for the Clinton Fire Department, is a veteran TSSAA official who has twice officiated games in the state tournament — an invitation-only responsibility.
He is a graduate of Clinton High School where he played basketball, football, and baseball.
“I believe in working hard, practicing hard, and playing hard. We’re just learning. You’ll enjoy this year and it’s a great thing to be involved with,” he told those assembled. “I am a Dragon. I want to make the middle school better and the high school better.”
“My main goals are teaching the kids fundamentals and the concept of team,” he said.
Kerley, who teaches physical education at CES, started playing basketball when she was in the fourth grade and played high school basketball at Jefferson County. She said she has always wanted to coach basketball.
“I have a passion for basketball and I’ve had to wait a while. I’ve been here 17 and a half years. I’m excited,” Kerley said.
“It’s going to be a lot of learning. I’m hoping to able to have these girls work together, improve their skills, function as a team, and hopefully win some games,” she said.
Tryouts for the boys will be in the CES Gym on Sept. 6-7 from 3-5 p.m. with the team announced on Friday, Sept. 8.
Tryouts for the girls will be Sept. 11-12, also in the CES Gym from 3-5 p.m., with the team announced on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
Practice will start on Monday, Sept. 18 from 3-4:30 p.m. with one squad practicing at the community center and the other in the CES Gym.