PRINCETON, N.J. — Jim McClune, basketball coach and athletic director at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey, has seen for himself what previously had been only sad stories.
Like most everyone else here at the Nike camp, he spent nights watching basketball in Dillon Gym. Three hours each morning, in the academics-with-athletics atmosphere, are set aside to teach some of the nation's best high school players something other than sports.
McClune, who teaches accounting and economics at St. Bernard, is in charge of one of the 10 reading and writing classes in Fine Hall. His group is the seven players who tested to a third- and fourth-grade reading level.
"For a number of them," McClune said, "all it took for tremendous improvement in their compositions was some strategic placing of periods at the end of a sentence. With one kid, I counted a 220-word sentence.
"I can talk to a young man and communicate ideas and know he will have an understanding of the subject and be able to talk about it, but he couldn't put it onto paper. That's the real value of this camp. Here, sure I'm a basketball coach, but I am reminded that I'm also a teacher."
In the relaxed environment, the McClune game plan was to incorporate basketball into the learning. Verbs were used as a starting point for sentence construction and also as examples of changes in tense.
McClune came off the bench for this assignment. He was first approached about the assignment two weeks ago, after someone who was expected to come had a change of plans. It left McClune just enough time to find a substitute teacher for his summer school classes and a substitute coach for the Viking basketball team.
"I wish there was some way I knew how effective a job I was doing," he said after a night of basketball. "If it turns out that I am doing some good, I would pay my own way to come back and teach.
"All I know is that tomorrow morning, seven high school All-Americans are coming to my class. And they are going to be better readers when they leave at noon than when they showed up at 9."