Published September 22. 2013 4:00AM
Groton - More than 100 kids associated with the Naval Submarine Base studied the moves of two former professional basketball players instead of watching cartoons Saturday morning.
Parents in the bleachers clapped their hands and stomped their feet as Dana Barros, who played in the NBA for 14 years, and Teresa Edwards, a five-time Olympics athlete and former WNBA player and coach, demonstrated fitness techniques and basic hoop skills at the base's youth center.
The basketball clinic served as the kickoff of a yearlong Healthy Base Initiative program designed to increase the health and wellness of the military force, civilian workers and their families. The base is one of 13 military installations taking part in the initiative, which is aimed at "helping the Department of Defense gather information about current practices, best practices and future opportunities," according to a press release from the Navy New London Public Affairs Office.
The kids listened closely to the advice the two athletes threw out between dribbling drills and layup lessons. Barros and Edwards work with the NBA Cares "Hoops for Troops" military outreach program, which is visiting all 13 of the Health Base Initiative locations.
Barros said he spent up to 17 hours a day practicing as a youngster, returning home only to eat. "The only reason I'm here to talk to you today is because I just worked harder than anyone else," he said. "It's not because I'm great."
The 47-year-old Bostonian, who has two teenage boys, played with the Boston Celtics for six years.
Edwards, 49, who was ranked 22nd in Sports Illustrated magazine's 100 Greatest Female Athletes of the 20th Century, twirled a basketball with her index finger and shared a little of her own story. She said that growing up, the only time she wasn't playing was when her mother ordered her to get home.
"If you truly love what you do, there are no obstacles," she said. "You just do it."
Fire Controlman First Class Winston Russell and his wife, Chasity Russell, said they did not have to drag their three kids, ages 10, 11 and 15, to the clinic. "They were very, very excited this morning to come," Chasity Russell said. "They love basketball."
The Russell kids are "very, very active," according to their mother, but both parents admit they could improve their own fitness routines. "I'm pretty sure they're going to get us going," Winston Russell said of the Healthy Base program.
Chief Hospital Corpsman Curtis Thaxton, who brought his 14-year-old son, Bailey, to the clinic, said it was a great opportunity for kids and a good way of "getting the word out" about the importance of fitness.
Parents have to be willing to push their kids into activity, Thaxton said, noting that he works out or runs and makes sure his son stays active. "We have a basketball hoop in front of our house, and he runs with a friend," he said.
Basketball players are semi-regulars at the submarine base. When the NBA All-Stars played at Mohegan Sun in 2005, players read to Navy kids on base and the league donated $35,000 for a reading room and other projects. When LeBron James announced in 2010 that he was joining the Miami Heat, he donated computers to the base through the Boys & Girls Club.
"The NBA and WNBA are very close to our heart," said Youth Director Cathy Terrall.
After the clinic, the children lined up for autographs and photos of the two pros, ate a healthy boxed lunch - including turkey on a whole wheat wrap, bottled water and fruit - and the families checked out some of the other healthy opportunities.
The base's Drug Education for Youth program kicked off its annual red ribbon week campaign against substance abuse, giving free trinkets to kids who pledged, in writing, that they would not use drugs.
U.S. Department of Agriculture coordinator Glenda Streyle set up an appetizing display of fruits, vegetables, yogurt dip and other healthy foods that children can fix for themselves with minimum supervision.
In another room, seeds, potting soil and paper cups awaited kids who would learn how to plant them. Terrall said the base purchased two greenhouses and is starting a community garden with the hope of making the harvest available to families at a farmers market next year.