By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MIDDLEFIELD — As summer began and COVID regulations eased, Clark Sports Center Assistant Athletic Director Scott Whiteman started getting more activity on his phone. It was the basketball athletes checking on open gym status.
“We couldn’t practice the last week of school, because it was finals,” said Piper Seamon, a 2020 Cooperstown Central School graduate and college basketball player at Hamilton College in Clinton.
“So, I was texting Scott a week before I got home, ‘Are you open? Can I work out?’”
In the off seasons of many sports, athletes go back to their college campuses to work with old trainers or scrimmage with young recruits. Around Otsego County, elite basketball players congregate at the Clark.
For the decade Whiteman has been running basketball at the gym, he has hosted, drilled and rebounded for the top level of Cooperstown players, including state championship winners Liz Millea and Jack Lambert, as well as the program’s leading scorer, Tyler Bertram, who plays for Division I Binghamton.
However, Whiteman said he is thrilled the gym’s reach has gone farther. Players from Worcester, Unatego and Deposit-Hancock have become regulars at Whiteman’s weekday drills and Friday scrimmages, and Seamon said she is recruiting a future teammate at Hamilton, Sherburne-Earlville’s Tessa Cole, to join her this summer.
“I finally got it to where it was when I was a kid growing up here,” he said. “I grew up in Cherry Valley, but my best friends were (Cooperstown players) Buddy Lippitt and Reid Nagelschmidt, because I knew them from the gym. That’s what I was looking for here and we are finally getting to that place.”
Whiteman said he has a group of about 30 regulars and more than half show up on any given day. About a third are college players or soon-to-be college players, the rest are the most driven grade-school players. Not only do they get to work on their games, but they get to watch the college players to see how they work out.
“We’re here for whatever they need,” Whiteman said, “But we don’t go get anybody and force them to be here. They have to want to be here.
“We’re just here to be support for a guy like Tyler, because at his level, he knows what he needs to do,” he continued. “So, we are there to rebound for him or to be an extra body, whatever he needs.
Sometimes we are able to steal a drill from him, learn from what he is doing in college.”
For Seamon, who grew up hearing about the legends of Bertram and Millea, getting to learn from the real person, in the form of Bertram, has been an inspiration.
“Tyler has been here a lot and he has really helped me out, like with my footwork and stuff,” she said. “It is such a nice thing, because he has already done his workout and then he is willing to stay and help me get my workout in.”
In Seamon’s last organized game of basketball, in March 2020, she helped win the Section III Class C title for Cooperstown and was named the tournament MVP. A day before a regional final against Unatego, the pandemic put the game on hold; it was later canceled. Hamilton allowed practice during her freshman year, but no scrimmages or games. Her desire to get back on the court and to experience college basketball seems palpable.
“I love to see the kids that are willing to put the work in,” Whiteman said.
A recent newcomer to the gym is Deposit-Hancock’s Laycee Drake, a 2021 graduate who will be playing for Division I University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall. Drake drives about three hours roundtrip from Hancock to work out at the Clark. Her dedication has been an inspiration, Whiteman said.
“She calls this place her Disney Land,” he said.
“She is amazing,” Seamon said. “She has really helped me. My school wants me to play shooting guard and I was struggling with this drill Scott had us doing. Then Laycee goes out and nails it the first time and I was like, ‘okay, I have to step up my game.’”
The training is open to any members and there is no charge. In addition to on-court training, Whiteman recommends his players work with Fitness Center Director Rich Jantzi or one of Jantzi’s trainers to get a well-rounded workout.
“The great thing about … these kids is, they never really have to look back at life and say what if,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people in the world who can say that. I know I can’t say that.”
To learn more about the program, call Whiteman at 607-547-2800, extension 109.