CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB)- Once upon a time, ninth-graders spent their summer vacations working on their tans, practicing for that all-important learners permit or sleeping until noon before visiting the mall. But increasingly, athletically gifted middle schoolers and high school underclassmen spend their summers on the road, honing their skills on the court or the diamond. It's part of a relatively recent trend in which AAU, select and club sports dominate a family's life long before the once-sacred domain of high school athletics begins.
Bradley Central High School in Cleveland, Tennessee is home to two such families, the Copelands and the Reuters. Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter have much in common: they're both 15, smart, attractive, blonde, and were freshman standouts last year in their school's storied girls basketball program. The Bearettes, long coached by the late Jim Smiddy, have a tradition like few others in the nation. Smiddy won more than a thousand games, and is a member of every major girls basketball Hall of Fame in the state and the nation. Rebecca's father, Jason Reuter just completed his first year in Smiddy's old job, and seems well on his way to carrying on Bradley Central's grand tradition.
In the 2010-11 season, the Class AAA Bearettes finished 27-6, winning their district and region championships. Reuter had been an assistant coach in the Bradley boys program for 13 years, and had never coached girls. In fact, he says, he missed most of Rebecca's middle school games at Ocoee Middle. "Everyone told me she had a lot of potential, but I was busy coaching the boys during her games, so I would hardly ever get to see her." When the girls job opened at Bradley Central, "the timing just seemed right," he said. "I'd get to coach her through high school, and everyone around here knows about the high expectations of the Bearettes basketball program. I was ready for the challenge."
To Reuter's good fortune, another talented freshman from a different middle school was also ready to contribute to the program. Brooke Copeland was a standout center at Lake Forest Middle School. The daughter of high school basketball stars Brian and Kim Copeland, niece of UTC great Chad Copeland, and the younger sister of Bradley Central quarterback Bryce Copeland, Brooke is the chatty counterpart of soft-spoken Rebecca Reuter. Together, they were dubbed "Bradley's Twin Towers" by a local sportswriter, and they're considered the foundation of the next chapter of the Bradley Central girls basketball dynasty. They're expected to be the nucleus of a veteran team in 2011-12 in which every player is returning.
Rebecca Reuter admits her game is far from polished. She's using the summer camps and tourneys to sharpen her skills as she prepares for three more years of high school ball, followed by what she hopes will be a big-time collegiate career. When playing against tougher competition in AAU ball, Rebecca says, "It's like an All-Star game every day, everybody's as good, or better than you are. The speed of the game is a big adjustment. And I have to get stronger. I have a lot of work to do in the weight room."
Brooke Copeland also hopes her hard work will pay off "with a Division 1 scholarship." She says, "I used to think that I knew everything about basketball. But when you play against girls from other states who are better than you are, you realize you've got weaknesses. I've got to work on my ball handling." Both play volleyball in the off-season, but say basketball is their number-one sport. Brooke runs track "to stay in shape." Is there anything she's not good at? "Golf," Brooke says, without hesitation.
During the past few weeks, the Copelands and Reuters have loaded up their cars for summer basketball road trips to Virginia Beach, Kentucky, Florida and various sites in Tennessee. "It's expensive," said Coach Reuter, "but if you want to get the attention of the major colleges and universities, this is what you do. It's a sacrifice you make, and you can't do it unless the girls are committed to it. We're lucky in that we're able to do this, and families like the Copelands have committed to it as well. It pays off in the end."
What would Brooke and Rebecca be doing this summer if they were "normal" teenage girls, with no basketball obligations? Rebecca admits to a love of shopping, "always looking for clothes and handbags." Brooke says, "I'd be with my friends, probably on the river." Still, they wouldn't trade their summer schedule for a life of leisure. "Basketball teaches some great lessons," Brooke says. "You have to learn how to handle yourself in all kinds of situations. You've got to keep your emotions and temper in check, which is an important lesson for me. That, plus dealing with adversity."
Although the high school basketball season is still a few months away, the girls say their summer training should be of great benefit. Over the course of a few months, they must transition from being "freshman phenoms" into a new role as team leaders. "I really admire Candace Parker," Rebecca says, referring to the former UT standout, now starring in the pros. "She takes a lot of responsibility in every team she plays for, and people look up to her personally and on the court. That's what I'd like to be."
Coach Reuter says his "twin towers" are handling their dual roles of student-athlete very well. "They make good grades, they're learning the game, and learning how to toughen up and be good sports." He says, "Everything's faster these days. When I was in school, athletes didn't get that much attention until they were in high school. Now with the Internet, college fans and recruiters are able to track these kids from when they're 10 years old. You can have a bad game in 77th grade, and people hundreds of miles away know about it. It's my job to keep their heads on straight, make sure they know their priorities, and keep them from getting burned out on it too early. It's a big job, but I love it."
And it's a job that could lead to even more trophies in Bradley Central's already overflowing trophy cases.