POWHATAN - Before sixth grade, softball was the one sport that Michala Taylor played.
Now, the rising Powhatan High School senior is an established leader across the playing fields, excelling at field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter and lacrosse in the spring this past academic year.
It all started with the youth summer basketball camp held in Powhatan.
Coach Kristy Henderson, who was then a teacher at the elementary school, convinced her to attend as a camper.
Taylor did so as a sixth grader.
“That kind of started me playing basketball because I had never played before,” Taylor said. “I always remembered it and I kind of owe my basketball career to this camp basically because I never would’ve played basketball unless she convinced me to do it.”
And by getting into basketball, Taylor learned she could love a lot of other sports.
“And now I play a bunch of other sports.”
Taylor also became one of the many counselors who led drills and stations at the very same Powhatan Basketball camp that kickstarted her successful multisport journey.
Through the camp - which founder and Powhatan High School assistant athletic director Steve Washburn has been holding for 20 years now - students in grades 1 through 8 learn the range of elements that comprise the game: fundamentals and skills such as defense, shooting, layups and passing.
The campers then put those newly learned skills to the test in rotating stations with instruction from Washburn, Henderson and a group of counselors featuring student-athletes who played high school basketball for Powhatan and were also campers themselves, like Taylor.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids come through,” Washburn said, “and the rewarding thing for me is the fact that many of the kids who started out as campers have now become counselors.”
Rising Powhatan senior Gabby Dintino never came to the basketball camp as a camper because she didn’t know that it existed - but she definitely would have.
Following her freshman year on the JV basketball team, Dintino was told that she could come help out and volunteer. She loved it.
“I did both weeks...super invested, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
Henderson said that the campers, all from Powhatan, get to meet new kids from the other elementary schools. And they love the counselors.
The campers and their teenaged instructors were all smiles during the first day as they competed with each other and tried to find ways to either defend the basketball or maneuver it to the hoop.
At times, rising junior Aaron Nash - who in his instruction emphasized the importance of defense - appeared to have five or six kids swarming him with the apparent intent of getting the ball away from him.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I love working with kids and helping them striving...to be great.”
Washburn said that the counselors become role models to the campers: he pointed out that, when the younger kids come to watch those athletes compete on the playing grid on a Friday night, those kids can say, “I learned how to play basketball from them this past summer.”
“It’s a lot of excitement on both ends,” he said, “not only for the players to have someone who looks up to them, but also for our kids to see someone who - they want to be in the same position [the counselors are in] at this point. It’s kind of passing the torch.”
And the summer camp drills prove valuable to the very counselors who are leading them.
“We have to teach them the fundamentals of basketball, because some of them, the little kids, they don’t know,” Dintino said, “and we get so caught up in where we’re at with our level, but it’s really nice to just go back and work on the basics, and that actually improves your game.”
“Once you learn how to teach a skill, you only become better because of it,” Washburn said. “As we get more and more of our players to teach skills and to pass on the skills...they’re becoming better at it and they’re passing on their knowledge to somebody else, so it’s a win-win situation.”
With the camp, Washburn wanted to create even more community excitement for Powhatan Basketball, and with the help of Dan Grabill and Paulette Bowman over the last 20 years - and also with former campers returning as counselors - he’s seen that goal realized. To the instructors, Powhatan’s summer basketball youth camp is about more than just basketball - it’s about being involved, keeping yourself active during the summer, having fun and spending time with friends.
It’s also about learning that a sport isn’t just a sport.
“Every sport that you play, you create a family and everybody in it is very invested,” Taylor said. “Once you get into sports and school...it’s just another home, so it just kind of teaches everybody the family mentality.
“You learn basketball and everything, but when I was little, I just learned that being a part of a team is the best thing you can do as a kid and growing up."