Hoop Stars teaches kids basketball fundamentals while having fun
Dan McKenna can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in basketball. He participated in the sport from an early age, eventually playing at Penn State from 1990-1994.
Now, McKenna hopes to inspire that early passion in others with his new program, Hoop Stars.
The program, which launched in January, aims to teach children — from preschool to school age — the fundamentals of the game, from vocabulary to dribbling and passing skills.
Starting a basketball program for young children was an idea McKenna always thought about, but taking the “leap of faith” to actually start his own business was something he began talking more seriously about in late 2018.
He took a “First Step to Small Business Success” workshop through the Penn State Small Business Development Center, and won $2,000 in funding from the Bellefonte SpringBoard’s StartUp Challenge, which allowed him to build a program website, among other things.
As the business was ready to launch, he worked to find clients, cold-calling and talking to people about the new program.
He felt that creating a program for younger students would be “filling a need” in the community, and was gratified to see that others felt the same way.
“We just felt like, I’m a basketball player, I’ve always taught basketball, I’ve coached it, and there’s really — especially for the younger age — there is no basketball,” McKenna said. “A lot of it starts at 5 years old in different programs in town, but there’s no (basketball program for younger children), so we just figured it was an idea that we kind of came up with and decided to run with it, and here we are.”
The fun part, McKenna said, has been watching it go from concept to reality.
While he works with part-time coaches when teaching larger groups, McKenna is largely a “one man show,” from setting up for the classes to how long they should be. As such, he’s learning how to balance his enthusiasm with making sure he doesn’t “bite off more than he can chew.”
Currently, McKenna teaches 10 classes a week, offering two on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and one each on Thursday and Saturday. McKenna recently began the weekend class, and hopes to soon expand his weekly number of classes. He also offers public classes within that, where classes are open to people in the community who might be interested. He already has people returning from his earlier Winter Session to the new March Madness Session.
Dr. Kelly Ferrell, a parent involved with the program, believes Hoop Stars is “a wonderful opportunity.”
“There’s not many activities and sports for three-year-olds, (there’s) Soccer Shots and this,” Ferrell said. “Kids basketball has just been a wonderful opportunity. The coach does a wonderful job of keeping everybody interested in learning and inspired about the sport of basketball.”
Because children’s skillsets can differ by age, McKenna said he likes to tailor his classes to each child and how they learn. In order to make sure he can give everyone one-on-one instruction, McKenna keeps classes at a relatively small size and manageable timeframe.
For Chelsea Masorti, another parent involved in the program, her favorite part is the one-on-one coaching instruction it offers students. Hoop Stars is the first program of this type Masorti has seen in the area, “so I think that the program’s great so far,” Masorti said. “We enjoy it.”
For classes with the youngest students, McKenna keeps classes around 40-45 minutes so short attention spans don’t wander, and classes for older students stretch to an hour.
For the older students, McKenna teaches the game’s fundamentals — things like dribbling, passing, defense, shooting, ball-handling, and dribbling, as well as playing some games.
For the youngest preschool students, McKenna teaches a word of the day and a new skill which the students can build on, as well as basketball-oriented games.
“Parents have told me their kids won’t stop saying the word of the day all day,” McKenna said.
At a recent public class for preschoolers, students reviewed the most recent word of the day, “defense,” and learned the meaning of a new word: rebound. They learned what a sidestep was, and different types of passes, and practiced controlling their ball dribbling by standing in hoops placed on the ground.
A game of basketball-oriented “Duck, Duck, Goose” ended in happy shrieks and giggles, and shortly before class finished, McKenna took a turn running down the length of the court, trying unsuccessfully to defend the ball as the five preschoolers chased him.
“I like to take kids who have never played before and introduce them to the game. I like to take kids that love learning the game, that I can send off to a higher program,” McKenna said.
Ultimately, he likes seeing the kids “get the bug” for the game early on, just as he did.
“To me it’s developmental at this level, really, just having kids learn how to play and then hopefully love it the way I do.”