A ministry started by a former Carthage coach five years ago has helped a lot of area youngsters develop into top-notch basketball players while instilling strong Christian values.
Scott Hettinger's 2007 vision for a youth ministry with a way to develop advanced basketball skills came to be known as the Midwest Mission, which, he said, has exceeded what he ever could have imagined.
"I had this burden that God placed on me that something needed to be done basketball wise in the area, as well as a mission of some kind," Hettinger said. "Then, it just evolved into helping kids spiritually with basketball as a tool. It evolved with players in the area knowing each other and wanting to bring a team together but having it be Christian based, which was my idea. So there is no question that it was to be as much about basketball as about developing values."
The response has been so overwhelming that Hettinger and Dan Armstrong, another former Carthage coach who has helped him with the mission, are having trouble keeping up with the constant demands of the program as well as time they would like to devote to their families. As a result, they are hoping to find someone else to take over the mission. In addition, they are hoping to find a buyer for Overtime Gym, near Webb City, where Midwest Mission practices are held and many home-school games scheduled.
"If there isn't somebody else out there to take over the mission, we will continue to do it," said Hettinger, who retired as a history teacher from the Carthage school system last year.
Midwest Mission began with just boys going into their senior years of high school.
"We surrounded ourselves with Christian men who knew a lot about basketball, brought the players into our gym and started working out," Hettinger said. "About a month and a half of that and I got a phone call from someone else who wanted to put a team together for his son, who was a year younger than the current group we had.
"So I said why not? I let them make the phone calls and get their young men together and they came in and, then, about two months later I got another call and it was the same thing about putting together a team for that age. And it eventually developed into many teams."
All those coming play for their school teams, Hettinger said.
"When their season is over in March, that is when coach Armstrong and I get hold of them and bring them to our gym for workouts," he said. "I try to talk to their coaches at school about what they want them to learn and they have told me they appreciate what we are doing."
Page 2 of 2 - Hettinger said the players are entered in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) network but play in what is referred to as the NCAA Showcases.
"You have to be certified as a coach in order to take a team into the Showcases," Hettinger said. "That is where the college coaches come to watch the players."
The biggest month for college coaches to see the players is in July, Hettinger said.
"We play four tournaments where those NCAA coaches get to see them," he said. "The level of play is the highest of any where they can play because we go into places where the top players are. This is higher than AAU. We are talking about the cream of the crop.
"It is my job to take them where they will get the most exposure and possibly help them get a scholarship. They are going to be the ones to get the scholarship. We can't do that for them."
Even though they play against the top players from around the nation, Hettinger said they limit their travel to the Midwest, playing in such places as Kansas City, Tulsa and Springfield.
"We try to find at least 20 to 30 games for each team in the spring and summer," he said. "We practice three or four days a week. We always tell them that their high school teams are more important than this and that they come first, so we also try to prepare them for that, as well as instilling Christian values and beliefs."
Hettinger said colleges have recruited many of their players and he continues to get requests to start more teams.
"I get calls and emails all the time from people about starting a younger age group of players," he said. "If I had enough time in the day between my wife and children, this program could expand all the way down into the second grade. And we also have been approached about girls playing, so that may be coming down the pike."
Midwest Mission is a not-for-profit program and players are required to pay for expenses.
"We have hardship cases where kids cannot afford to pay and what happens is we have money that other people have donated and we use that to help those to play," Hettinger said. "Since we don't realize any profit, we are always looking for someone to sponsor a team or to help out in any way they can."
Anyone needing more information may call Hettinger at 673-6995, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go by Overtime Gym at 3502 W. Red Iron Drive off of Range Line Road near Webb City.