An opportunity to create an even playing field and to fill in the gaps with certain Abilene High School sports was the reasoning behind the development of the Abilene Athletics Academy that will begin this fall in Abilene.
Abilene Middle School Athletics Director Derek Berns said the new opportunity for Abilene third graders through six grade will be developing basic basketball and volleyball skills while also preparing Abilene athletes for middle school and high school competition.
“We know there are some travel teams out there for these sports,” Berns said. “But, we wanted to level the playing field and give more kids the opportunity to develop and become successful Longhorn and Cowboy athletes. The travel teams do a pretty good job with development but they have limited availability. That’s where we saw gaps in developing numbers in these two sports.”
Berns mentioned the Academy would begin with just three sports being volleyball and boys and girls basketball. He recognized the success of Abilene Kids Wrestling and Junior Cowboy Football programs and the development of those athletes.
The difference with the Abilene Athletics Academy is that ultimately these programs will have the overall guidance and direction by the AHS head coaches of the particular sports. Berns described the AHS coaches involvement in preparing these young athletes with some of the same offensive and defensive skills that the high school athletes use.
The big picture, Berns said, is that high school coaches see that Abilene is trying to develop a third through twelfth grade high school program. The high school coaches will train the newly hired Academy coaches so that they use the same concepts and same vision.
Tentatively scheduled program dates have been planned for volleyball beginning August 23rd and running until October 8. Basketball for both boys and girls would be from October 12 to December 10th. Berns said the plans call for third and fourth graders to practice two times a week with fifth and sixth graders going three days weekly.
“We will hire some coaches to lead each program,” Berns said. “The high school coaches will work with these people to develop future Cowboy and Cowgirl athletes. It’s going to be a lot of work on fundamentals and basics. The high school coaches will approve of the drills and techniques used by the Academy coaches.”
Berns said that he and AHS Athletics Director Will Burton have discussed the concept for a while and after looking at programs that other places like Derby and McPherson use to enhance their high school programs Abilene’s plan was approved by the Board of Education at its February meeting.
‘These practices will be held at the Community Center,” Berns said. “There will be a $30 fee but each participant will get a tee shirt as well as a basketball or volleyball. The goal is that they wear those tee shirts to some of our sporting events and really promote it so that others will want to be part of the program.”
Abilene Athletics Academy is being prepared in a collaborative effort with Abilene Parks and Recreation according to Berns. He said the Recreation Department would be tweaking some of their rules they use so that the two programs can work closely together. For example, he said that following the basketball sessions; they will conduct a competitive league with teams and games.
“Hopefully this partnership will also help the rec league with their numbers,” Berns said. “Getting more kids involved.”
Berns said overall, the concept boils down to creating an overall basketball and volleyball program for Abilene much like what has been done in football and wrestling.
“These two sports in particular require that kids play together and stay together as a group to be really successful,’ Berns said. “We think this will give more kids an opportunity if they want it and then keep those kids working on the same goals and then, over time, bridge those gaps we see right now.”