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Penners, Youngs combine to form basketball program PDF E-mail

Basketball is typically one of the longest sports seasons around, but there’s a group of people in Aurora who have found a way to extend it clear into the summer.

And they’re loving every minute of it.

Former Aurora all-state basketball player Kirk Penner, his wife Jennifer along with former Lexington head boys basketball coach Eric Young and his wife Ann are into their second year of ownership of the Central Nebraska Basketball Academy, a program for boys and girls in grades five through eight held at the Penner Athletic Courts on the west edge of Aurora.

Kirk and Eric met in Lincoln three years ago when both of their sons played on the same Cornhusker ShootingStars fifth grade team, both putting in lots of interstate miles.

“Eric was looking to do something so he didn’t have to travel so far, but he had no facility,” Kirk noted. “We just built this (the PAC) that fall so I said, ‘Why don’t we do something in Aurora?’ We brainstormed and we formed the academy. We had tryouts last year and had four boys teams.”

This year interest grew not only in the number of boys, but two girls teams were formed as well. Tryouts were held in March and nine teams were formed in all.

“The players are coming from Aurora, Lexington, Broken Bow, Milford, York, Hastings, Kearney, Hebron and North Platte,” Kirk pointed out. “The need was here for teams and the idea is to develop talent in Central Nebraska. And the program is only as good as the coaches. The coaches are the key. They are all volunteer coaches, and to have Aurora coaches involved is huge.”

That department is well covered as academy coaches include former Norfolk and Grand Island Senior High coach Dave Oman, former Aurora boys and current Grand Island Northwest state champion girls coach Mike Herzberg, Hampton boys coach Jesse Flanagan, York football coach Glen Snodgrass as well as Aurora head boys coach Rick Bell and assistant Tom Leininger.

Eric, who also serves as a coach, said the friendships with the kids and the parents is one of the best parts about the entire program.

“And to get better at basketball. Each team will get roughly 40 games this summer and 25 practices, so that’s another season.

“We’re in love with the program. I know some of the kids from Lexington and they love it. The PAC is a fantastic facility. This is the best one we’ve played in. It’s beautiful.”

All the teams will have played in six tournaments by the first week of August, including two in Wichita, one in Salina, one in Denver, another in Lincoln and one in Omaha. All nine teams play in all the tournaments, and will have faced some of the best youth teams in the country.

“This last weekend we went to Denver and booked 70 rooms,” Kirk noted, “so it was fun. The parents can interact.”

The teams had success, too as eight of the nine finished either first or second in their respective division.

The academy is funded from dues from the players. It stresses fundamentals during practice sessions along with the usual scrimmages, and its long-term goal is to not only grow, but to adapt to change.

“We will continue to expand the girls in more grades,” Kirk said, “and maybe some of these kids, when they’re ninth or tenth graders, will want to play in some exposure tournaments, where college coaches come and watch. Because of their other activities we’ll need to scale it down for those who want to move forward.”

Kirk also said there’s somewhat of a catch 22 about the academy, noting that while it develops players in Aurora, it also develops players from opposing towns.

“We’re creating our own competition in some sense but we’re happy to do it. If people understand what’s going on in youth sports, that you just can’t play during the school year. We do a good job with volleyball but we’ve never done it with basketball.”

He added that the feedback from the academy players and coaches has been positive, and that hopefully it creates more enthusiasm for the sport in all of Central Nebraska.

“It’s a long haul,” he added about the academy season, coming off the normal basketball season. “It’s a huge commitment (for the players). When it’s the first day of August they’re ready to be done.”

Done, for this season maybe, but the off-season never ends for those who love the game.

That’s what makes it so special.

DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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