By Rich Winter
If you follow sports in Winner South Dakota, two things resonate through the sports programs.
1. The kids will work hard during the summer
2. The kids will play hard EVERY time they lace up the cleats, shoes or spikes.
Winner basketball coach Brett Gardner kinda chuckles a bit when referencing the presence of Sacred Hoops in Winner this summer. Six times, Sacred Hoops Coordinator, Allan Bertram visited this summer, and each time he put the Winner players through the ringer.
"In Winner we have kids that work hard and are four sport athletes," Gardner said. "Allan knows this so every time he came, he pushed our kids extra hard and by the time they were done, the grey shirts they started with were completely soaked in sweat."
Each time Sacred Hoops came to town this summer (20-25 kids with a high of 29) showed up in large part because the Warriors wanted to get better and every kid in Winner loves a challenge.
"Everybody knows that when Coach Bertram comes he's going to get after you and he's going to push you," Gardner said. "He came on Wednesdays and he got after it and the kids responded."
For Gardner, the experience of having an 'Outsider' come in rings familiar as his high school coach, the legendary Jim Drake brought in someone new to the summer program.
"For 31 years coach Drake always brought in someone else, people like Dave Booth, University of South Dakota coach," Gardner said. "His reasoning was that it was always good for the players to hear the same message from someone else."
And this is the part that really makes Gardner smile. He notes that Sacred Hoops teaches a lot of the same things he does over in Winner, but hearing it from someone else made a visible impact.
"This summer was amazing," Gardner said. "If I say 'Rip-Through' the guys are like ok, if Coach Bertram says, 'RIP THROUGH' the guys are like WHOA and having the passion of Sacred Hoops here this summer really hit home with our guys."
When Gardner was growing up in the Winner area, he learned from one of the great basketball minds in South Dakota, Coach Jim Drake. Gardner sees a lot of similarities from what he learned off the court from Drake.
"He is the reason there is a Jim Drake coaching tree from Winner," Gardner said. "It was how much he cared about us as young men, always asking about family and grades and ultimately about life."
Gardner, who played against a Bertram coached Chamberlain team his senior year, then coached against him as a coach during a stint at Lyman says he's excited about the Sacred Hoops endeavor spreading the Be Your Best message to the entire state of South Dakota.
"Sacred Hoops is teaching more than just the game of basketball," Gardner said. "The Be your Best motto applies to sports and it teaches you about life."
Winner's Joren Bruun played on coach Sittig's East-River 16-u squad. Last year as a freshman, Brady Fritz averaged 15 points per game. The return of senior Shea Connot and a bunch of others suggest the Warriors are going to be in the mix in what looks to be a crowded Region 7A.