Cambrian: Opinion

Youth sports, longevity and Coast Union basketball

Certainly there are huge downsides to aging, including the maladies older people face: dementia; failing hearing and eyesight; Alzheimer’s; diabetes; heart disease; arthritis; osteoporosis; cancer; influenza, among other health issues.

But there are advantages to aging. You receive Social Security and Medicare, plus, as an AARP member, you get some of the best advice available.

The March 2017 AARP newsletter offers “50 Great Ways to Live Longer.” I perked up immediately when I read No. 3: “Please go to bed.” The point here is, if you’re not getting at least six hours of sleep, you are “doubling your risk of heart attack and stroke.”

I kept looking for advice on exercise, which was finally provided in No. 42 (“Take the stairs” not the elevator). No. 45, “Drive less,” was followed by “Better yet, walk.” But there was nary a word about older Americans advocating that their grandchildren get a good start on health and longevity by engaging in sporting activities, whether they be T-Ball, Little League, volleyball, tennis, soccer, softball, baseball, track and field, or basketball.

On the subject of basketball

I was so-so in football and reasonably good in baseball, but the only thing I could do well in basketball was free throws when no one was watching. Put me in a game, and my free throws clanked off the rim.

I wasn’t a fan of basketball until I began broadcasting the Coast Union varsity games in 2016. Thanks to the deep knowledge of the game provided by my broadcast partner, respected Coast Union junior varsity coach Michael McAvoy, we brought the excitement of Bronco games to the community through KTEA-FM (103.5).

The high-flying, hot-shooting 2016-17 Coast Union boys varsity basketball team (22-4) put on a remarkable show of talent, making it all the way to the CIF Division 5A semifinal. This energetic team relied on rapid-fire, crisp passing; uncanny accuracy on 2-point and 3-point shooting; stifling defense; smart rebounding positioning; and the ability to make in-game adjustments directed by coach Tim May.

Reporting live on Auggie Johnson’s high-arc 3-pointers was one of the joys of the broadcast experience. The senior hit 3s with startling consistency. I watched the trajectory of his bombs and silently guessed as to whether they would find the net.

It’s a thousand times more dramatic when you’re in a high school gym watching someone nail 3-pointers than watching a college or NBA player swish those long bombs on television.

In an email interview, coach May said he admired Auggie’s “ability to get his shot off quickly; and when his shots start falling, he was able to attack the basket” which created big problems for the defense. Interestingly, the roar from the crowd was louder for a 3-pointer than it was for a normal 2-point score; a layup became almost passé.

Auggie was named Offensive Player of the Year by May, was named to the All-Coast Valley League first team and also was placed on the CIF Division 5A first team. He hit on 35 percent of his 3-point attempts and 42 percent of his 2-point attempts, and led all scorers with 321 points on the season.

Nick Roper wasn’t one of the high scorers or rebounders. But as the “sixth man” coming off the bench, he injected a thousand volts of electricity into the team. He moved so quickly he was like a blur. My partner McAvoy loved the force and power Nick brought to any game situation.

The MVP of the Broncos was Jez Lawson, hands down the most physically powerful leader on the court, and May said that leadership applied to his work ethic in the weight room. He was a “once-in-a-generation” kind of player, and he “brought so much enthusiasm and competitiveness to our team” the JV players couldn’t help but want to emulate his game, May explained.

Like Auggie, Jez was named to the CIF Division 5A first team, and he was honored as CVL MVP. The night Jez leapted and dunked the ball, the crowd went wild, as though the gym had opened up and hundred dollar bills came floating down. He racked up 310 points and hauled down 134 rebounds for Coast.

The twins, Jack and Sam MacKinnon, brought exhilaration and animation to the floor with their ball control and lights-out shooting. Sam scored 170 points notwithstanding that he suffered an injury to his foot and missed some games. But Jack, healthy all season, was given the Coach’s Award by May; he also made the All-CVL first team, and the CIF Division 5A second team. Coach May refers to Jack as “a gamer.”

It isn’t just that Jack hates losing, and is “locked in every game,” as May explained; or that he led the team with 182 rebounds. It’s also that he has been known to put the whole team on his back, taking over a game, as he did in a 2016 summer tournament game in San Diego when the Broncos seemed doomed to lose late in the game.

Any review of the Broncos’ successful 2016-17 season must include the hustling, grinding, Coast Defensive Player of the Year, Roberto Cueva. Not tall, but beefy under the basket, Roberto was a joy to watch as he snatched the ball away from offensive players and found an open man to pass to.

Thor Ronemus, too, played an important role on this team, albeit he didn’t play the entire season due to a foot injury.

And the only junior on the team, Riley Kennedy, snagged 104 rebounds and scored 114 points. Riley is strong as an ox and quick as a cat. He would seize a rebound and as though he was imitating a lightning-quick gunslinger in a western movie, he would put the ball back up for a score in a flash of energy.

The Broncos will need every ounce of Riley’s energy next season, as he will be the only returning varsity player.

Given what I learned this basketball season, I am writing to AARP to add No. 51 to their list of “50 Great Ways to Live Longer.” Let’s call it, “Engage Grandchildren”: Urge your children’s children to sign up for youth sports teams with coaches that possess the skillfulness and thoughtfulness of mentors like McAvoy and May.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at