At the heart of Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy – a youth basketball program in Tenino – is a solid sense of community. And while honoring the memory of a local student, Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy allows young athletes in the Thurston County region to play basketball in a fun, competitive and supportive environment.
Basketball Camps Building New Community in Tenino
At the helm of Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy is head coach Richard Durham, who has experience as a basketball coach for a number of regional youth teams throughout the years. In 2015, Durham volunteered as a coach for his niece’s elementary-age basketball team and in 2018, this inspired Durham to launch the Yelm Warriors, a community youth basketball program that competed in the Tumwater area.
In 2019, the team adopted the name Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy in remembrance of Nya Jaquez, a high school student from the Yelm area who had passed away from cancer in 2016. With the blessing of Nya’s family, the team has continued to play competitively in the Thurston County region.
When Durham relocated to Tenino, he decided to take the team with him and restart the program.
In Tenino, Durham discovered there wasn’t a comparable community-based basketball team for elementary-age girls, so he reached out to different facets of the local Tenino sports community to help launch Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy. This season, the team formed too late to play in a competitive league, but the Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy was still able to get its official Tenino start in late 2022, when Durham began hosting free basketball camps at Tenino Middle School.
Tenino Community Banded Together To Host a 3-On-3 Basketball Tournament for Elementary Athletes
Geared toward girls in kindergarten through fifth grade, these practice camps taught agility and the principles of the game. The practice camps also allowed time for skill building and bonding as a team, while preparing for future tournaments and competitive seasons. Over time, the program continued to grow, with athletes coming from Tenino, Rainier, Yelm and Tumwater to participate in these practice camps. Hoping to provide the young athletes with an opportunity to compete, Durham became interested in hosting a local basketball tournament.
“Within a couple of weeks, we’re very competitive, our girls see progress right away, because of the way they’re coached,” explains Durham. “And so, the parents were excited, the girls were excited. And we thought, well, why don’t we just try to put the tournament together?”
With the support of parents and players, Durham started preparations for a 3-on-3 basketball tournament for second and third grade teams. Durham reached out to the Tenino School District and found support from district staff, including Crystal Hedden, executive assistant to the superintendent, who helped Durham get the tournament off the ground.
Durham says he is grateful for the immense support from the Tenino School District as well as the Tenino Combined PTSA, both of whom were able to help plan different facets of the event, including coordinating playing space, providing marketing for the event and facilitating operations the day of the event. “There’s a whole laundry list of things that had to get done before we can even make that happen,” explains Durham. “So, one by one, systematically everything we needed to get done, pretty much got done.”
The 3-on-3 tournament took place in February at Tenino Middle School. Participation in the tournament was free for young athletes and proved successful, with competitors from Tenino, Rochester and Tumwater. Both Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy teams took home first place trophies in the competitions and presented the winning trophies to the parents of Nya Jaquez.
Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy Teaches Basketball Skills, Greater Life Lessons for Young Thurston County Athletes
Although individual games can be competitive, Durham wants the young athletes he coaches to take away lessons that can be applied throughout an athlete’s life. This includes having fun as a team, but also learning the importance of preparation for team members to do their best.
“They understand that they go out and play, they put the work in to do good, they have the confidence,” explains Durham. “I tell them, I don’t care if you miss or make the shot, I care if you believe in yourself enough to try.”
Participation in Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy is of no cost for young athletes. And as a tenant of this no-cost model, Durham trains athletes to have a strong work ethic, while also instilling confidence in their playing abilities. Durham encourages the athletes to work toward a well-rounded basketball skill set and to hone their craft by practicing on their own time. This also encourages the athletes to learn time management and to work toward a common goal.
“I’m really supportive of them,” says Durham. “What I’m trying to do is teach them to be confident, so when they have decisions to make, or there’s a left or right to make in life, they’ll make the right decision because they believe in themselves to go independent if that’s what it needs to be.”
As the months grow warmer, Durham is looking forward to coaching a summer team, hosting practices and playing competitively in summer tournaments. Practices for this summer league will begin in late May, with the summer tournament schedule officially starting up in July and continuing through September. This summer program for Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy will be spreading a wider net and Durham says they will be playing teams from across Washington State.
To learn more about the Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy, visit the Nyastrong Warrior’s Academy Facebook page.