Basketball for the Athletically Challenged

In a two-on-two game, Michael Thal attentively dribbles the ball from half-court, where he stops to sink a shot off of the glass. Thal, a web-magazine writer who is hearing-impaired, started attending the “Basketball for the Athletically Challenged” course in the Spring of 2011 at Santa Monica College. “Michael had no experience when he came to us last year, and he improved so much that we awarded him a Most Improved Player award,” said Joe Bock, the course’s instructor and creator.

The 12-week class assists potential players with learning the basics of basketball in a non-competitive and pressure-free environment. Because all ages are welcome, the course’s range in age is 22 to 74.

"This class is a relaxed and fun environment to play basketball," said Richard Hoffman, a class member.

There are no scoreboards or whistles, and the players are able to simply enjoy the sport. “This class is for the athletic, but not those with a higher skill level in basketball,” said Bock.

On Thursdays, the class goes over basic skills, and plays half-court two-on-two games. Later, there is a full-court game, in which everyone has a chance to play.

“If you were the kid who didn’t get picked to play at recess, you should take this class,” said Thal, who, unlike his more athletic twin, played an instrument and excelled in writing. He has now learned to block, shoot, and play defense.

Bock, once an uncoordinated child who could not play sports, came up with the class concept when he took a beginning basketball class at SMC. He soon realized that a class for those less skilled, yet interested in basketball, could be beneficial.

After speaking with the SMC Athletics Department, he created the course.

The oldest athlete among the players, 74-year-old Nick Louie, travels from Long Beach once a week to play. Louie last played basketball in junior high school.

"I noticed I had skills, but I had no idea I could play," said Louie. His family noticed his interest in the sport, and for the first time, participated in a family basketball game.

While some seek to learn the sport, others attend for other reasons.

"It's a social thing," said bookkeeper Dennis Cowan. An avid wrestler in high school, Cowan was never interested in basketball. "Since starting this class, I've noticed a strength in my legs—and it's a good physical exercise," said Cowan.

Although these players will probably never play at the Staples Center alongside Kobe Bryant, their newfound passion for the sport will definitely keep them coming back to the court.