Kids in the gym: Local hoopster gives back through basketball

"‘Move and say ‘Help,’" Cody Kunigel instructs players in teaching basic perimeter defensive strategy.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
"‘Move and say ‘Help,’" Cody Kunigel instructs players in teaching basic perimeter defensive strategy.

Cody Kunigel uses basketball to take young people beyond basketball.

Kunigel, a Hood River Valley High School grad who has played and coached youth up to college levels, guided more than 100 kids ages 3 and up through two days of hoops defensive and offensive skills on Friday and Monday at the HRVHS gym.

“Impacting the youth is a goal and using basketball, which was as an organic platform for me, and try to inspire and motivate kids, and take a building block approach to basketball, but also to life,” was the main goal of the clinic, Kunigel said. All players were invited to bring canned food to collect for FISH food bank.

“It’s bigger than basketball. I’ve seen first-hand what basketball can do for me, and also it’s about having kids in the gym. Having kids in the gym is not a bad thing,” said Kunigel, who currently works for Hood River County Parole and Probation and has two sons of his own, ages 4 and 1.

The free clinics taught “fundamentals, working on some skills,” presented with humor and practical skills such as footwork, the essentials of the bounce pass, and arm and hand positions in shooting.

Kunigel had help from his dad, Art Kunigel, who played professionally and has coached at all levels including as a clinician at camps by legendary coaches Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzeweski. Cody Kunigel also had help from one of his own charges, senior HRVHS player Carson Flores, as well as coaches and dads Jaime Rivera and Eric Fauth.

“I love working with kids,” Flores said. “I worked at Mt. Hood and taught little kids to ski and snowboard. Working with kids is fun. Sometimes it’s a little hard to get them to do what you want, but it’s fun. I’m learning how to communicate with others, kids in general, learning the coaching aspects of basketball, showing them good stuff.”

Many local 20-somethings might remember the youth camps Art Kunigel taught, with support from Cody, in the 1990s and early 2000s. In later years, Art’s daughter, Jodi, an HRVHS player and 2009 grad, also helped out. Jodi, 27, is now a psychiatric doctoral candidate in San Diego.

“A lot of what I still do today was instilled by my dad, and I can’t speak enough about what that gave to me,” Cody Kunigel said. The senior Kunigel worked for years as a private contractor supporting the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

“Having him out here and looking over me reminds me when I was in his place, with his friends,” Kunigel said. “It’s a blessing, especially with him being away as much as he’s been away. It’s a blessing and I’m really humbled by the opportunity.”

“It’s really fun to see my son pick up on some of the things I taught him and to give back to the kids of the community, because this is important,” Art Kunigel said. “Where they can go and transition into a sport and feel good about playing that sport, and it all starts with fundamentals.”

The clinic is the first of a series, including at least one to be conducted in Spanish, planned by Kunigel, who is the new coach of the boys’ team at Hood River Middle School. The Panthers won their first outing of the season this week, over the Wy’east Middle School team coached by Cody Hanshawe.

“The contest of the Codys,” Kunigel joked.

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