NEGAUNEE - When she was in the fifth grade, Nicole Ball, now 17, joined the Negaunee Nets, a community basketball program for girls. Although she now plays for the Negaunee High School basketball team, she's still involved with the Nets.
The Negaunee senior now serves as an assistant coach for one of the Nets teams, helping 11 fifth graders learn the fundamentals of a sport she loves.
"I started with the Nets in fifth grade and I've been playing since then," Ball said.
A former Negaunee Nets player, Nicole Ball, 17, now helps coach one of the Nets fifth-grade teams, in addtion to playing on the Negaunee High School team. Here she works with the girls on the team, helping them to learn the fundamentals of the game. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Ball began working with coaches Brandon Sager and Brian Syrjala with a team of third grade girls two years ago and has been working with the same team ever since.
Besides keeping up with her own school work and daily practices for the NHS team, Ball also attends practices on Thursdays and Sundays to work with the Nets team.
"We usually do everything together," Ball said of working with Sager and Syrjala. "We'll split the girls up into groups. Usually I work on defense with them."
From starting to work with the girls when they first began playing basketball to now, Ball said she has noticed a lot of improvement.
"There's a big difference," she said.
Coaching has also helped her improve her own basketball game.
"I learn stuff from the other coaches I coach with here that helps me with my Negaunee practices," Ball said. "I can work on my shooting and dribbling as well."
Although she played on a Nets team for several years, Ball said she first got involved as a coach after babysitting for Sager's and Syrjala's families. And now that she's spending more time with the girls on the team, she said she is becoming more aware that coaching isn't just about showing someone how to play.
"I get to teach the girls things, and not just about basketball, about life, too," Ball said. "It's not all about sports. You have to study and keep your grades up."
Coaching with the Nets isn't Ball's only coaching experience.
This summer she began coaching with the WIN Girls Slow Pitch Softball Program, this time coaching girls in their freshman, sophomore and junior year in high school.
"I started playing in the WIN league when I was 7," she said. "Once you're 17 you can't play any more. I finished my playing and I decided to coach."
This summer she headed the team with co-coach Abby Walimaa, also a senior at Negaunee.
Even though Walimaa and Ball were close to the same age as the members of their team, Ball said the season went smoothly.
"We got along really well," Ball said. "They all listened even though they were a year younger."
Now having experienced sports both as an athlete and as a coach, Ball said she felt participation in sports was beneficial for young people.
"It gets them involved. If you're involved in sports or other activities, you stay out of trouble," she said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.