The Philomath High School boys basketball team returned to the South Tahoe Shootout in California a couple of weeks ago to catch a little court action while getting to know each other better.

The Warriors won three of five games but head coach Blake Ecker doesn’t worry much about final scores — only that his players are putting in the effort while taking advantage of an opportunity for team-building.

“You hope to get a little bit better in terms of playing together and getting to know each other,” Ecker said. “That’s really my goal is for those kids to learn about each other and become better teammates. From the playing aspect of it, I hope that we play together more and I think we did that. In terms of the wins and losses, it doesn’t really bother me that bad, as long as a we compete.”

Philomath’s two losses both came on June 15 in a round-robin tournament that also included schools out of Utah and Nevada.

“We lost to two really big schools but they were close games — one by six and another one by 12,” Ecker said. “But we were in them all the way through. It’s exciting to play some big teams and complete.”

Ecker brought 10 players on the trip with a mix of returnees and younger athletes, including an incoming freshman. Assistant coach Eddie Van Vlack also accompanied the team.

“We played a school early on in the tournament where they weren’t nearly as good as us but we didn’t compete as well as we should have,” Ecker said. “We still won, but I want them to compete and play hard. Gosh, if we lose by 15 to a better team and we’re competing, I’m happy with that.”

The team-building component of the trip is important for Ecker. They all head down together in a van rented from Oregon State University.

“It’s good to make them communicate and do things,” he said. “We ask them not to use cellphones on the way down so they can talk to each other. We get a big house … and the kids had a pool table to play on downstairs, a hot tub, a big, huge kitchen. What we do is we make the kids cook and clean, do laundry, and they have to figure out that stuff on their own.”

On the trip, they stop at various places and work in some recreation time beyond the basketball.

The trip to Tahoe is part of a summer of activities for Philomath High athletes and it’s not limited to only basketball. The football, baseball and basketball coaches work together to make sure scheduling has no conflicts. Football has an early week of workouts, baseball takes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while basketball goes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The athletic department encourages athletes to play more than one sport. Philomath High is at a disadvantage compared to most other schools in Class 4A because of enrollment numbers.

“It works out really well where all the kids need to compete, especially in our small school,” Ecker said. “We’re the sixth-smallest school in 4A, so we have to utilize our kids.”

Early on, the basketball team played four games in Kelso, Washington, and have also gone up against schools in this area, such as Lebanon, Crescent Valley, South Albany and Central.

“It’s good to go out and play and we do just fine against the bigger schools,” Ecker said.

Ecker said the trip to Tahoe didn’t cost families a whole lot other than some cash to cover the meals.

“We've done well enough on those pie auctions and different things that we don’t really charge the kids much of anything,” Ecker said. “They have to pay for their own food and stuff like that. The Stueves have been really good — they actually bought the food and then we’ll say, ‘hey x family, you owe $40 for the weekend.’ So they don’t really pay much of anything.”

Ecker and the players hope the team-building experience pays dividends. But the main point to the trip was for the athletes to just get away and have some fun.

Said Ecker, “That’s what I’ve gotten out of basketball — to have fun and get some new experiences.”

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