Tue, March 31

It's time for summer!<br><i>Ballfields, pools and gyms fill up now that school year is finished</i>

Staff photo by Eric Lusk

ASHLEY Garside of the Phillies heads for home during Tuesday night's Verde Valley Little League softball game in Clarkdale.

Now it’s time to get down to the serious business of summer.

If you’re a kid and you’re into sports, this time of year can be a bonanza. Camps, summer leagues, swim teams, personal lessons, endless pick-up games — and a full, uninterrupted day to get it all in.

More than 100 young athletes from the Cottonwood area have found a great way to beat the triple-digit heat and get a good workout in the process – by joining the Cottonwood Clippers swim team.

The city pool is bursting at the lane ropes yet again as the Clippers get ready for their first competition of the summer, June 14 at area rival Sedona.

As usual, the team has picked up a number of new faces. More uncommon is that many of them will swim in the older age groups. Typically, most new swimmers are the younger ones.

"We’ve picked up an awful lot of kids in the 12, 13 and 14 age group. That’s nice," says coach Rick Heisley, who returns to direct the Clippers along with Rob Hammerle, Brandon Stockbridge and Erin Bergen.

"We’ve got a ton of swimmers, and a lot of them are upcoming freshman (at Mingus), so we’re excited about that."

The Cottonwood team will swim in meets in Payson and Kingman this summer after Sedona, and some will compete in the Grand Canyon Games at ASU. The final meet, the annual Verde Valley Invitational in Cottonwood, will be Aug. 2.

Bob Woods kicked off the summer sports camp season this week with his annual Mingus Marauder Basketball School. More than 70 kids, boys and girls, filled up both the main gym and small gym as they learned hoops fundamentals and the Mingus philosophy.

Woods spent a lot of time Thursday and Friday on defensive concepts, one of the biggest things he preaches within his varsity program.

"We’re doing more than passing, dribbling and shooting," Woods said. "We’re actually teaching help defense. Most kids don’t know that kind of stuff. You’ve got to see the ball and your man."

About 15 aspiring Mingus High players served as camp staff and did most of the hands-on teaching. Woods has two goals in mind with this.

First, it tests their knowledge as they try to pass on what they’ve learned to younger players. Second, by working the weeklong camp, high school players earn money for their own summer experience, which will include camps and league play over the next several weeks.

"It’s good because you realize how much you do know when you start to teach it," Woods said. "There is a lot to learn in this game."

Camp Verde girls coach Mark Showers will hold his annual basketball camp for boys and girls this coming week. New Mingus girls coach Susan Holm will start a three-week free clinic for girls players in grades 7-12 on Monday.

If baseball or softball is your game, chances are you’ll spend a lot of time at Butler Park in Camp Verde, Herridge Field in Cottonwood, Selna Field in Clarkdale or Posse Grounds in Sedona this summer.

That’s the home base for much of the Little League action in our area, and you’re sure to find a game their most weeknights and on Saturdays.

Little League action actually has been going on since late April. This is the time of year when teams try to finish strong, and individual players try to earn their spots on upcoming District All-Star teams (for tournaments in late June and early July).

Verde Valley Little League’s softball program has seen another jump in participation this year, according to commissioner Jayne Lee. About 160 girls are playing on teams from the coach-pitch division (ages 7-8) up through the seniors division (ages 15-16).

"It’s exciting to get them all going," Lee said. "All the teams are full, and I didn’t have to beg for coaches as badly this year."

One opportunity that softball provides — "interleague play" between teams from Verde Valley, Camp Verde and Sedona Little Leagues. The Verde Valley Panthers and Angels, for instance, will visit the Camp Verde Mariners and Camp Verde Angels this Monday night.

Camp Verde youth baseball teams also play opponents from Sedona and Dewey from time to time.

Of course, summer sports fun isn’t limited to the kids. Cottonwood’s summer adult softball league is in full swing, with men’s, women’s and church league games most nights at Riverfront Park.

Camp Verde is still taking registrations for its late summer softball league as well as its popular 3-on-3 summer basketball league. Local pools offer adult lap swim hours (11 a.m. to noon and 5-6 p.m. in Cottonwood), and the Verde Valley Invitational in August will have spots for Masters swimmers (over 18).

Fortunately, this is only the beginning of summer. School bells won’t start ringing and school buses won’t start running again for another couple of months. Enjoy it while you can.

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