Finding someone to look up to
When 6-year-old Jacob Franceschini of Hanson met W-H basketball player Mitchell Kinney of Whitman during the winter basketball camp for elementary and middle school children it was, as they say in the movies, the start of a beautiful friendship.
For Kinney, the youngest in his family — both he and Jacob have an older brother and sister in their families — he now has the experience of being a big brother figure for Jacob. At 6’7” make that a really big brother.
It’s also a testament to the kind of mentoring Athletic Director Bob Rodgers has in mind for the program. Registration for the summer camp has just opened at whathletics.com. Programs are available for boys and girls with participation caps at 100 players.
“At our camps and clinics everybody can come and have fun and make a connection,” he said. “Jacob’s been special because the connection he made with Mitchell is just so genuine. They’re like brothers.”
This was Jacob’s first basketball camp, said his mom Jessica Franceschini, adding he has played soccer and T-ball and is learning lacrosse this year. Basketball camp, however, has made a big impression on the shy little boy with a 1,000-watt smile.
That smile is missing two front teeth from an off-target chest pass, but Jacob doesn’t seem to mind much. He’s already dreaming of wearing a Panther basketball uniform. In the meantime he wears the practice jersey Kinney gave him as a cape around the house, according to Jessica.
“He came running home saying, ‘Mom, I have the tallest coach,’” she recalled about his first camp session. “He had a blast.”
At the end of camp, Rodgers had passed out game schedules for the varsity team and Jacob, who was sad that camp was ending, vowed to attend all the games.
He did just that.
“Except for two,” Jacob said — the team’s Florida trip. Jessica set up her first Twitter account so her son could follow the team.
“He’s definitely a number one fan,” said Kinney, who is a junior this year. “I hope he’s cheering me on next year.”
He’s been invited to Jacob’s birthday party and they’re plotting a trip to do go-karts soon, if Mitchell can fit in one.
“It’s like a school thing now,” Kinney said. “Everybody knows about it, not just the team.”
The team even began developing a routine with Jacob, according to Jessica — coaches would say hello to him with their own handshake or fist bump and players would give him a high-five after warm-ups. Jacob has also become buddies with Kinney’s grandparents, who also attend games.
“Everyone knows him,” Kinney said. “I have to give a lot of thanks to my teammates for being so welcoming to him on the team.”
Rodgers said anytime a parent can get their children involved in any activity it enriches them. Basketball is a sport that anyone can play on a leisure level and sometimes kids have the talent and drive to go further.
“Nobody can work at this as hard as they have to if they don’t love it,” Rodgers said. “So the first thing we try to instill in them is that passion for, ‘this is fun, this is meaningful — it’s worthwhile.”
Still learning the basics, Jacob’s mom said he is already showing an interest in defense. But when you get right down to it, he just wants to be like Mitchell for now.
“So many parents will contact me and say that their sons, when they go to camp and meet our players, it inspires them to want to be like them,” Rodgers said. “We have such good kids in our program — it’s something that’s a big reason we’ve been so successful.”
Kinney, who is deciding between sports science, sports medicine or criminal justice, said the experience of mentoring younger children is valuable.
“They’re great role models,” Jessica said of the team. “They show great restraint and awesome self-control on the basketball court. It’s been great for [Jacob] to watch.”
She said that sportsmanship contrasts greatly with some other teams the Panthers have played.
“It’s nice to hear that,” Rodgers said. “As a coach I’m very fortunate to have quality kids. They’re very talented, but they’re really good kids.”
The ratio of campers to high school player-coaches is around 6:1, which allows the coaches to get to know the younger kids. The summer camp is a bit more comprehensive than February’s, as every aspect of the game is covered in a full week with a lot of games played, Rodgers said.
Fall clinics are geared more toward skill development and in February the campers become part of the high school program for a couple of days — taking part in practices and attending W-H games as a group.