At the call of “Charge!” more than 100 girls ranging from first-graders to high-schoolers, fell backward in unison on the Memorial Gym floor.
As quickly as they dropped down, they got back up, assuming a defensive stance, then shuffling right and left, forward and backward, with an occasional loud slap of the floor mixed in.
On the final day of the Columbus North girls basketball camp, it wasn’t just any coach calling out instructions — it was the Indiana Fever’s Natasha Howard leading the campers in drills.
Howard, who is in her second season with the Fever, is a 2014 graduate of Florida State, where she earned first-team all-ACC honors. In Columbus for an hour, she led campers of all age groups in two drills and then answered numerous questions, such as her basketball accomplishments and her favorite hobbies and TV shows.
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“My favorite part is interacting with the kids and just having fun with them and teaching them things I learned when I was young — telling them about school, being healthy and staying active,” Howard said.
“I liked that she got us up and moving and that we did drills with her,” CSA Fodrea sixth-grader Jessyka Brown said.
“It was amazing. She was really cool.”
After leading the defensive drill, Howard set up a relay race that included dribbling, jumping jacks and crunches. And while none of the campers had quite the same dribbling prowess that Howard showed off, some of them did have just as much speed.
“It’s a good inspiration to get your dreams and to go as far as you can,” Northside seventh-grader Alana Cook said. “It makes me feel like I could be that someday.
“It helps me carry on and to become a future North Bull Dog,” she said.
Most of the campers were enraptured with their new role model, working as hard as they could in the drills and paying close attention to all of her answers to their questions.
“When players come in and talk, (the kids) look up to them,” Howard said. “If they’re looking to compete at the next level, they look to them like a role model. They could look to me like a role model, so I feel good just helping out and reaching out to them.
“I’ve got people in my hometown that look up to me, and I’ve got people around here that look up to me, so it feels good,” she said.
Many parents were in attendance, as well, to watch their daughters and to listen to Howard speak.
Kelli Hoeflinger, mother of Rockcreek fourth-grader Layne Hoeflinger, was impressed with the day and with the camp as a whole.
“They did a really good job of focusing on skills and basic skill development,” she said. “The high school girls that were here as counselors have been really positive role models. The girls have taken the time to get to know (the kids) and interact with them. That role model aspect is just as important as teaching the basic skills.”
“We had youth camps at my high school but never had a professional basketball player,” Hoeflinger said. “Especially a female professional basketball player, that’s a great experience for the girls to see.”