Don't let Jamey Swiggart's calm and cool demeanor off the court fool you.
The 12-year-old with brown hair and cheeks full of freckles has some serious freaking game on the tennis court.
Swiggart, who has finished third in the past two years in the Intermountain 12 & Under Memorial Day Championship, will look to take third again this year.
While Swiggart's still a year away from taking the court in high school, his game, his coaches and more importantly, the program he's in assures by the time he's a freshman, he'll be a valuable asset.
I'm sure a lot of the players in the Steamboat youth tennis program will be an asset in a couple years.
It's a feeder program - maybe the most instrumental thing in high school sports - that turns out quality competitors.
It's an easy theory.
Start them young. Get them playing together. Throw in some guidance and by high school you're almost guaranteed a great program.
I only bring it up because, Steamboat's got one of the best. At my high school, alma mater, the feeder programs essentially equal zilch.
Since the class after I graduated, we haven't had a successful program. This last year, high school football was canceled. Summer baseball's down to two teams. And lacrosse doesn't exist.
Every successful team I played on in high school, I played with the same guys since age four. My senior basketball team's starting lineup had all played together since sixth grade and some since kindergarten.
The only reason our programs were relatively successful was the work put in when we were in middle school and junior high.
The same thing's happening here in Steamboat.
I'd wager you'd have a tough time finding better feeder programs for high school sports than you have right here.
In tennis, players such as Swiggart are molded early on to have success. It's a compliment to the coaches, parents and the top of the line facility.
In skiing, the Winter Sports Club is where future Olympians are born and 6-year-olds are as familiar with Nordic skis as I am with shabby predictions.
Rob Bohlmann's youth soccer teams have equated to league champions.
Steamboat youth hockey is booming and has a player with an NHL contract to show for it.
Maybe the best example of what feeder programs can do is in Lacrosse.
Four Steamboat youth teams competed in a tournament during the weekend. While the high school program may be two years away from seeing just how well the feeder program is doing, the more than 100 fifth through eighth-graders playing can't hurt.
Maybe the best case study in lacrosse feeder programs takes place on the Front Range. The Littleton Panthers have 800 lacrosse players between second and eighth grade. Same with a dozen other Denver programs.
It's not a coincidence then that the eight of the last nine state champions have been from the Denver area.
And it's why fans of Steamboat Springs High School sports should all be excited for the future.
- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org