The National Basketball Association used to kick off its season in the early days of November. Two-a-days in the late July heat used to represent the beginning of football season. In the not-too-distant past, no four words in the English language would help baseball fans get through the winter doldrums better than: “Pitchers and catchers report.”
But those days of signifying a ramp-up to a new sport in a new season are over. These days, regardless of sport, seasons have stretched into year-round training regiments. One such regiment was found late Sunday afternoon on the tennis courts at Peak Health and Wellness Center in Hayden.
“Ok, let’s go again,” Bryan Janzen, fitness director for Peak’s Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene branches, encouraged with a bark in his voice and a pep in his step. Along the baseline of the tennis court, a handful of high school athletes took deep breaths before lining up, preparing one-by-one for Janzen to drop a tennis ball, launching the kids like missiles as they sprinted forward to barehand the bouncing ball mid-air.
“This is what we call the Kootenai County Combine testing program,” Peak Health and Wellness social media and marketing director Carla Cardinal said from the courts. “It’s a free program we offer every quarter to kids who want to measure where they are.”
The free Combine is part of an in-depth $299 12-week training regiment, one that’s been gaining traction among athletes with each new click of the stopwatch.
“This is my first [Combine],” Peak Hayden trainer Jami Altschuler said. “I’m assisting because we had such a huge turnout with the first Combine. It’s been growing so much that they asked for some more trainers to come help out.”
The Kootenai County high schoolers preparing along the baseline weren’t alone Sunday. Peak Health and Wellness employees cleared the tennis courts for the afternoon to allow trainers to work with swarms of kids from around North Idaho — all between the third grade and high school — cultivating their hopes of jumping an inch higher, sprinting a split-second faster, hopping just a hair quicker than they did the day before.
“It’s really good character-building,” Altschuler said. “It teaches these kids what really goes into sports, aside from just the rules. Building the right type of skills for each different sport helps them get closer to achieving their goals.”
No one, however, need remind these kids about their goals.
“I think I can get 19 inches,” Coeur d’Alene’s Titan Brock told of his vertical jump. “Right now, 18 is my highest, but I can know I can get to 19.”
Trainers from all three Peak Fitness locations converged to the Hayden center Sunday to help measure their kids’ long jump distances, their 40-yard dash times, their number and height of one-legged hops, their vertical leaps, and other feats of stamina, including a tennis ball technique that tests both acceleration and concentration while draining the breath out of even the most gifted athletes.
“I’m loving it,” said a winded Caleb Streeter, a sophomore who runs track for Post Falls High School. “This is my first [Combine] today, and it’s great.”
Janzen said the combination of peer-to-peer competition and the guidance of the instructors makes the Combine a winning formula.
“A lot of it starts with the enthusiasm of the instructors,” he observed. “These trainers are all college athletes, and a lot of the kids look up to them. But then you have that peer competition. We keep it positive, so some kids who maybe aren’t quite in the same place as other athletes don’t look down on themselves. They use it as motivation to improve...It’s a really positive atmosphere.”
While the young athletes are using the Combine to mark their improvement, not all goals are found on the field.
“For me,” Valerie Streeter said, “it’s something to distract my mind. It’s a way for me to focus and clear my head.”
But for a young George Mitchell, he’s working on his vertical jump to get closer to his goal.
“I gotta work hard,” he admitted between jumps. “I want to play football: either for the Saints or the Chiefs.”
Before this reporter could pose Mitchell another question, he ran off, back to his group to continue his training. For him, and for the other young athletes out there on Sunday, there is no off season.