Jeff Newman's son and daughter are teen-agers now but, when they were in first and second grade, he developed a way of teaching them basketball that later helped them compete in leagues.
"I lowered the baskets, got them women's-sized basketballs and taught them the basics," said Newman, of Oak Hill. "They learned the skills, but they also had fun."
NOW, HE'S DOING the same thing for another generation of youngsters at the snazzy, new, 62,507-square-foot Hoop Magic basketball facility in Chantilly. He's currently mid-way through an eight-week clinic there, but is still accepting participants.
"It started with nine kids — mostly boys, but girls are welcome — and now we have 23," said Newman. "Word of mouth after the first two weeks doubled our number."
When he and his family lived in River Vale, N.J., he was on the community's local basketball board. Competitive basketball teams formed there in the third grade — the same as here — so he figured children should be taught the fundamentals of the game before they had to play it for keeps.
"I developed a clinic for boys and girls teaching them dribbling, shooting, passing, defense and — most importantly — to have fun," said Newman. "I tried to teach them the textbook way of doing those skills, and the basic rules, so they wouldn't be running with the ball — which is 'traveling,' double-dribbling or standing in the three-second lane. All of these things you see inexperienced third-graders doing when they begin competitive play."
He ran the clinic in New Jersey for four years and had more than 120 students per session. "Local parents helped, and we had enough kids to actually organize them into teams," said Newman. "It was wonderful. The level of play increased, and a lot of the kids went on to play on travel teams and, ultimately, for their junior and senior high teams."
He and his family moved to Virginia in 2000, and his hope for his clinic here at the Hoop Magic Sports Academy is that "families whose kids plan to play in the local leagues will take advantage of this and give their kids a head start." His program isn't intended to compete with CYA, but to augment it or any other similar clinics in the area.
The clinic is held Saturdays, from 8-9 a.m., and costs $125 for eight weeks. Anyone joining now would pay a pro-rated cost since this session began Jan. 6. Each child receives a basketball and a T-shirt to keep. Players need not be in CYA or live in Chantilly to participate; it's open to anyone.
NEWMAN WILL OFFER the clinic again in summer and winter — and even this spring, if there's enough interest. For more information or to sign up for this or future clinics, contact Hoop Magic at 703-268-5780 or see www.hoopmagicsa.com.
He's also excited about the Hoop Magic facility, itself, at 14810 Murdock St., off Route 50 west and Stonecroft Boulevard. "It's amazing," said Newman. "It's Field of Dreams for basketball — you walk in and your jaw drops. There are seven, full basketball courts."
Besides Newman, his son, 18, and daughter, 15, also coach the children, along with some of the Hoop Magic staff — all of whom are experienced players. It works out well, he said, because "These youngsters look up to and listen to these older kids. Any time they see them demonstrating a skill, they try to emulate it."
"In a lot of leagues, the coaches are parents — and that's a wonderful thing," he continued. "But many times, the parents who are coaching are doing so because they have the time and the interest, but not always the knowledge of the sport or how best to teach it.
"So what happens is that kids whose parents or older siblings have taught them some of the basics wind up dominating in those early leagues and being frustrated with the inexperienced players — who, in turn, are frustrated because they never get the ball passed to them. Or they walk with the ball because they don't know it's wrong."
In contrast, said Newman, this clinic gives everyone the opportunity to learn — and a few years to hone their skills — before they're placed on a court as part of a competitive team. He also acknowledged Curtis Symonds — chief operating officer of the women's professional basketball team, the Washington Mystics — and founder and owner of Hoop Magic.
"I believe he's a true visionary and an extremely important supporter of the growth of basketball in our community," said Newman. "He's the Ray Kinsella [from the movie "Field of Dreams"] of basketball. He built it, and now they're coming."
Symonds' wife Pat runs the facility's day-to-day operations and, said Newman, "shares his passion for the sport and the wellbeing of the youth of our community." Besides basketball courts, Hoop Magic also contains a computer lab where students may do their homework.
ACTUALLY, THE TWO MEN worked together at BET (Black Entertainment Television) 20 years ago when Symonds was head of sales and Newman was senior producer. But they hadn't seen each other for 15 years before basketball reunited them.
"Unbeknownst to both of us, my son started playing CYA spring basketball last year at Hoop Magic — not knowing that Curtis owned it — and I ran into him," said Newman. "So we rekindled our professional relationship."
At the end of the session, Newman gives each player a written assessment of his or her strengths and weaknesses so they'll know what to work on. Above all else, though, he said, "This clinic instills in these kids to do their best and to have fun."
Since the children are so young, he said the hardest part is keeping their attention. The best part is "seeing them improve, week by week, and seeing a kid who couldn't dribble at the beginning — and now he can do it without looking."
But, added Newman: "My greatest satisfaction comes from the smiles on their faces at the end of every clinic. And the teamwork and discipline involved in basketball is a good life-lesson, as well. They learn to share and to listen, and they learn that hard work has results."
For many of them, he said, other than school, "This is their first social interaction. So it's an introduction to teamwork and, in my opinion, you can't start that early enough."