Prep Focus: Games take backseat to mercy mission

April 6, 2012 

Alex Johnson vividly remembers the destruction Hurricane Katrina wreaked on New Orleans seven years ago this August.

The images always stuck with him.

“I can still remember it,” said Johnson, an Olympia High School junior who was a member of the Bears’ 4A Narrows League co-champion boys basketball team. “All the buildings that collapsed and seeing all the people in the Superdome having to sleep in there.”

This time the memories will likely be more positive when Johnson and 12 other players on John Kiley’s Pioneer Technology boys basketball team travel 2,800 miles to areas still devastated from the hurricane’s wrath.

The team begins its weeklong stay in New Orleans on Saturday to help Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) help victims move out of their trailers and into brand-new homes, which the players and coaches will help build. They’re part of 150 players from the Greater Seattle area who are volunteering with Shirts Across America to help the rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast Region.

“All of us are really excited to make a difference and doing it for a good cause,” the 6-foot-4 Johnson said.

Johnson is one of five players from South Sound on the team that includes fellow juniors Brad Wallace (River Ridge), Brock Wade (W.F. West), Keenan Williams (Capital) and freshman David Cooper (Tumwater).

The trip has been in the works for six months, Kiley said, with help from friend and trip coordinator Randy Novak, who has helped organize missions to the Gulf Coast since 2007.

The players will work five eight-hour days in New Orleans’ hardest-hit areas, including the Ninth Ward, a neighborhood that was thrust into the nation’s spotlight because of catastrophic flooding.

“It’s hard to really understand the devastation until we see it,” said Kiley, who coached Olympia High boys basketball from 1993-2002 and who has run Pioneer Tech for eight years. “I have a feeling we’re going to come back different than when we arrived.”

When their work is completed, they’ll play a pair of games at New Orleans Arena, home of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, against area AAU or high school teams. This will be Pioneer Tech’s first games of its season, which runs through mid-summer.

The players’ mission is to help strangers in need. Basketball is an afterthought.

“It’s going to be pretty amazing,” Kiley said.

BERG OUT AT BLACK HILLS

For the third time since 2007, Black Hills High School has an opening for a boys basketball coach after Jamie Berg announced he will no longer coach the Wolves after two seasons.

“It was a mutual type of thing,” Berg said Thursday. “It wasn’t one thing or another. It was a personal thing. … Things I need to do for myself and things for my family (where) I need to spend more time.”

Under Berg, the Wolves had an 18-26 record in two seasons. This past season, the team finished 10-11 overall and advanced to the 2A District IV tournament. The team won its last three regular-season games to place fourth in the 2A Evergreen Conference.

In his first season, 2010-11, Berg’s team accomplished something no other boys basketball team at Black Hills had – advancing to state. It was the program’s first trip to state in the school’s 15-year history. The Wolves made it to the regional round before falling to Port Angeles, 57-49.

“I really did like coaching them,” Berg said. “They’re a nice group of kids.”

Prior to arriving at Black Hills, Berg was the boys basketball coach at his alma mater, Oakville, a class 1B school, for seven years.

NORTH THURSTON ATHLETES COMMIT TO COLLEGES

Four North Thurston girls have committed to college basketball and volleyball programs this past week.

Catie Mets, a three-year starting point guard in basketball and a starting setter in volleyball, committed to Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., for women’s basketball, her father, Dave, said.

Outside hitter Julia Wabinga committed to Saint Martin’s University for volleyball. She will become the seventh South Sound player on the Saints’ roster when she arrives this fall.

Brianna Perry and Cassandra Fogel have committed to Wenatchee Valley College and Pierce College, respectively, for volleyball, Rams coach Micah McBride said.

SOUTH SOUND TEAMS RANKED IN BASEBALL

Three South Sound baseball teams are ranked in the Top 10 in Week 1 of the Washington State Baseball Poll.

The weekly rankings are done by former Black Hills baseball coach Lem Elway, who currently is an assistant coach at Aberdeen.

Defending 2A Evergreen Conference champion W.F. West debuted at No. 1 in the Class 2A poll, followed by North Thurston at No. 9.

Tenino, which finished second in state last season, is No. 6 in the Class 1A poll.

mwochnick@theolympian.com 360-754-5473 www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports Twitter: @MegWochnick

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