The team members of Idaho Hustle Basketball Club come from all faith denominations, socioeconomic levels, and educational options. But when they come together to play, only faith and sports matter. (Photo submitted by Victoria Villareal)
By Gaye Bunderson
Court is now in session. Sort of.
It isn’t a court of law, but it is a court of rules and regulations, and it’s the place where the Idaho Hustle Basketball Club does its best work.
Idaho Hustle Basketball Club is the only faith-based traveling basketball team in the Valley that Victoria Villareal, its founder, knows of; and to make sure the players’ faith is not hidden under a bushel, their jerseys sport a cross where the letter “t” is in the word Hustle.
Villareal started the team this past March because her son had played club ball for a different program since he was in 4th grade; but after her son’s 8th grade year, that program ended for good. It just made sense for Villareal to start her own club team and a program not connected to a high school sports program. At present, Idaho Hustle Basketball Club is an all-male team, but Villareal said people have asked her if she intends to start a girls’ club as well. She has not committed to that, but both she and her daughter are athletes and both have played on basketball teams throughout the years. Her daughter was a standout basketball athlete despite being 5’3” tall.
Villareal said the basketball club meets and plays nine months out of the year, has now been playing since March, and will continue through the end of October; a new season starts again in March 2024. The team holds membership in the Amateur Athletic Union, a nationwide sports organization dedicated to the development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.
The team participates in tournaments hosted mostly by West Coast Elite Basketball. It is, in every way, organized and prepared to participate in games and tournaments in town and many others out of town. Tryouts are required, but no one is cut from the team. “Some players are just raw talent, and no one ever gave them a chance before,” Villareal said. “Some of the kids on our team didn’t even make their high school basketball team.”
Though they are a non-profit club, Villareal said team members pay to play, but the fee is not high and no one is turned away due to an inability to pay. The small fee goes toward uniforms, gym rental, insurance, equipment and travel costs. Sponsorships are available, but more are needed.
Recently, the club received the donation of a way to travel to a tournament. Villareal explained: “The only reason we were able to attend this tournament – since we were invited at the last minute – is thanks to St. Paul Baptist Church, which blessed us by letting us use their 12-passenger church van as a sponsorship. It was me and eight 16- and 17-year old boys who went. We drove to Washington and back as a team. It was great – and talk about an extremely helpful way to sponsor us!”
Tim Jamerson, who was IHBC’s first coach in the beginning but has since moved on to other things, works for the U.S. Postal Service and said he was able to get sponsorship money through the USPS to the tune of $2,500. Also, a couple he delivers mail to made contributions as sponsors as well.
The Cloverdale Church of God allowed the team to practice at its facility during the summer months, making monthly fees even cheaper. “They are amazing to us,” Villareal said.
Jamerson left the coaching position as of May and now Villareal coaches the team. When asked how the boys in the club react to a woman as coach, she said, “I run the practices, but they know what to do. They accept me. I do personal training for a living and worked at the YMCA for 13 years, where they would come and play basketball since they were very young, and many of them know me from that as well.”
Though her team respects her, she said when they play other teams, all of whom are not outwardly and collectively Christian like IHBC, “They don’t respect me at all.” On more than one occasion, a male coach directed an obscenity at her, and a few of the referees have been abrupt with her (one did apologize later, she said). She remains largely unfazed by their comments; but if they occasionally rile her up, she maintains her cool. “You’ve got to do your part and try your best to be a good Christian,” she said.
Members of Idaho Hustle Basketball Club are from all different schools in the valley and from a variety of faith denominations. They also represent a variety of socioeconomic and educational profiles, from prep school to home school. One member, Keegan Love, had this to say about participating in God-honoring sports: “I think being a part of a faith-based sports team shows that anything is possible with God. It made me realize that the team is in it together.”
Two of Jamerson’s sons are on the team, 17-year-old Timothy II and 15-year-old Jaxon, as well as Villareal’s son Mark, or Markie, as he is known by most everyone. She said being on the team motivated Mark to search Scripture.
“We have jerseys and warm-ups. The boys will have their names or nicknames on their shooting shirts,” Villareal explained. “But my son didn’t want his name on the shooting shirt. He wanted Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
His mom said that his appreciation for that verse might have had a lot to do with all his sports-related injuries. “He’s had four knee surgeries and two shoulder surgeries – all related to basketball injuries, and he’s only 17. He goes hard; he’s an all-or-nothing kid. But his injuries got him to look at the Bible.”
Villareal said other youngsters have picked up their Bibles after participation in IHBC. “I had a kid on the team text me recently and tell me that he knows things happen for the good and that he is now reading the Bible and praying every day.”
All team members move into a huddle and pray together on the court before each game starts. Some people have asked if the team feels uncomfortable showing their faith in front of others. They always respond with a belief-affirming “no.”
“We’re not embarrassed. After all, we have a cross on our uniform!” Villareal stated.
Villareal – and Jamerson before her – believes she is providing a spiritual example through sports. Said the female coach in an otherwise all-male domain: “It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s what I do as ministry.”
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