Members of the Medford Rogue Rotary Club are helping ensure the slam-dunk success of an after-school basketball program at three local elementary schools.

The program kicked off this week with 180 fourth- through-sixth-graders from Oak Grove, Jackson and Washington Elementary schools.

At least 50 Rotarians have signed on to help coach students in learning the fundamentals of basketball and in encouraging physical fitness and good sportsmanship along the way.

Spearheaded by Kids Unlimited, a Medford youth agency, the eight-week program is patterned after one already in place for area middle-schoolers.

Andy Batzer, vice president of Batzer Inc., said area Rotary members had been actively pursuing opportunities as part of the Rotary's Kids Connection program, and the basketball program was an ideal way to help a significant number of students.
— We were going to different schools to figure out ways to help, like building playgrounds, offering incentive programs and the SMART Reading program, Batzer said. Every report we've listened to and heard, no matter how limited our contact may be, it makes a difference. Our goal is to have Rotarians help kids, but also the reverse ' to have kids help Rotarians.

The basketball program was appealing in part because it targeted kids in west Medford, where low incomes and higher racial diversity can be obstacles to participation.

I grew up in west Medford, Batzer said. Whatever we can do to eliminate any barriers, that's what we want to do.

Kids Unlimited Director Tom Cole said after-school sports for youngsters had long been a need in the region. Offering a program had not been possible until Rotary members stepped up volunteering time and resources.

Rotary took this on as their service project — and these guys have really stepped forward, said Cole.

These kids are getting a chance to connect with these folks who are leaders in our community ' I think that's the thing that struck me as one of the more important impacts of the program.

The program will create a small intra-mural basketball league, with students competing with teams from other schools within a month, Cole said.

The program relies on a model developed by Will Young, director of Be One Enterprises and community outreach coordinator for Kids Unlimited.

A former college and semi-pro player himself, Young teaches kids who've never dribbled a basketball or shot a lay-up the fundamentals of footwork and hand position.

Rotary members will help reinforce those lessons, even if they've never coached before, Batzer said.

Basketball experience is not required, he noted.

Cole anticipated the program could continue with community support and volunteer effort.

This is our continuing commitment to kids in west Medford, he added.

Washington Elementary School Principal Stephanie Johnson, who's also a Rotary Club member, said students and personnel at her school were excited about the added after-school opportunity for students.

We are very excited about Kids Unlimited bringing the basketball program, not only to this school, but also Jackson and Oak Grove, said Johnson.

We know the kids are enthusiastic and we are just overwhelmed with the community response to helping make this program possible — especially with all those Rotary members that have come out and are going to coach our kids.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at