The players on the Clark Fork boys basketball team aren’t afraid to admit how disappointing the past few seasons have been for the Wampus Cats.
Last year, the Wampus Cats only won one game and failed to make it to districts and at times Clark Fork only had six players suit up in the royal blue and gold.
But last season Heath Beason took over as the head coach and step by step, he is turning the program around.
“My ultimate goal is to get the kids in a program they can be proud of,” Beason said, “and talk about and know that it’s going in the right direction.”
The record didn’t show it, but the Wampus Cats started to turn the corner in the second half of last season, Beason said. In his eyes, he saw that the team started to buy into the system he wanted to establish and this season Beason said the Wampus Cats showed up to the first day of practice looking like a team poised to take the next step.
“It’s night and day,” he said.
Senior Josh Constantin has been with the team through the ups and downs over the past few years and said the team has responded positively to what Beason has tried to instill.
“The past few years its been terrible because we’ve had a number of different coaches and they all had different coaching styles so we never really got comfortable with them,” he said. “This is the first solid coach that we’ve had in awhile so its nice to have drills that we can do that help us improve.”
Beason has a close connection with every player on the team. He spends time with nearly all of them year round thanks to serving as an assistant coach on the football team as well.
Constantin said Beason’s coaching style has created an environment that everyone has come to enjoy.
“He’s like our dad,” Constantin said. “We call him dad all the time. We all have a really great relationship with him.”
For Beason, creating a program centered around work ethic is working and its evident when you walk into the gym at Clark Fork High.
Last season, the most players the Wampus Cats had on the roster at one time was eight. Currently, 15 players are committed to the team, allowing Clark Fork to have a JV and varsity team for the first time in years.
“They have a concrete foundation and that’s important to kids to know that they have a structure,” Beason said, “and the coach is accountable and he’s going to be there for them no matter what.”
The Wampus Cats will look toward their four seniors to help guide them this season, but Beason expects everyone to be a leader and have confidence in their abilities.
Constantin said he has embraced a vocal role on the team and enjoys being a role model for the younger players.
“I want people to remember me for my leadership,” he said. “I don’t care if they remember me by a 30 point game one night or something. I want them to remember how I was on the court, how I helped the other guys.”
For junior Cameron Garcia, dishing the ball to the younger players and getting them involved in the offense during practice is one of the approaches he is taking to show the new additions to the team how it’s done.
“I’m taking them under my wing teaching them the ways because I want to go out strong when I’m a senior,” Garcia said, “and then they’ll have the skills that I taught them and it will just keep going down the chain.”
Garcia will be one of the keys to the Wampus Cats success this year after earning all-league honors last season. Garcia said he plans on pushing himself this season to earn North Star League MVP and has been getting to the gym early in the morning and working his shot to make that a reality.
“We have a pretty good shot at going places this year and most of the guys are ready to work,” he said.
The togetherness of the team is what makes it so special, Garcia said.
“We’re just family,” he said. “We all hang out every single day. We stay in touch, we have each other’s back. If is someone is falling down we pick him up as a team. We triumph, we triumph as a team. We succeed, we succeed as a team. That’s how I want us to remember this season.”
In terms of goals for this season, Beason said he just wants his team to take it one day at a time and see where the season takes them.
“My goal is to make it as far as we can in state if not win state,” he said. “I mean I shoot for the moon.”
Regardless of what happens this year, Beason said he is happy to have the opportunity to coach this team.
“I love these kids,” he said. “This season for me, all I see is positive and I think the sky is our limit and I think these kids are seeing that.”
Clark Fork opens its season Friday, Dec. 6 at Priest River.