Family on the Hardwood
The tattoo of leather on hardwood has been the heartbeat of the Jorgenson family since before they were a family. Tharen and Candy wove a romance on the basketball courts of Douglas, Wyoming, when both were stand-out athletes. Even now, basketball is the fabric of their family.
"It's definitely been a whole family involvement. We started when Mandy was like 10-11, Travis was a baby that first winter. He's definitely grown up with it. Courtney's grown up with it," said Mid-MO Hustlers coach Candy Jorgenson.
"My very first memory would be watching my sister's team play, the very first Hustlers play, and wishing I had a team," recalled Hustler Courtney Jorgenson. As soon as she was old enough, she got a team, and success quickly followed.
"When we were little, and we were in the Show-Me State Games in Columbia, we won first place," Hustler Becca Shemmer remembered. Through the years they won, and they won, and they won some more.
"They averaged about 100 games a year for 6 straight years, and they weren't used to losing," coach Tharen Jorgenson explained. Not losing became a way of life for this core of hand-picked all-stars and the Jorgensons.
"I've never been on a vacation that doesn't have to do with basketball. My sister, my team or my brother's team... Everywhere we've been it's because of basketball," Courtney Jorgenson said. Basketball was a way of life for all the families on the team. Tesfamikael Tweolde had daughters on both teams.
"Wow! I have never calculated this since our involvement , it would be thousands of dollars. Traveled as far as Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming 7 or 8 times, Ft. Collins 3 or 4 times, Nebraska, name it, we've been all over!" exclaimed Tweolde.
By their senior year, the older Hustlers played their way into the AAU national tournament.
"We'd never gone to nationals before, didn't really know what to expect. Just kept winning games. We went out with 7 kids and everyone told us you need to add players. We thought about it, but the thing about that team is their chemistry, how well they'd played together for so long," Candy Jorgenson said.
"The rewards for this have been awesome. It defines me and Candy. We're what they call mom and pop coaches. We're the only mom and pop coaches at AAU nationals that year. Literally we were the only non-paid coaches. The pay we get is just reward watching the girls graduate and go on," said Coach Tharen Jorgenson.
"We come up against a lot of great teams that fly their kids in from here and there for the tournament. That's why we won the national championship. We didn't have more talent than the people we played, but they had that togetherness and chemistry that other teams didn't have. That's what put them over the top," he continued.
Every members of that team won a basketball scholarship and went on to college.
"The good thing about our teams through the years, we could pick and choose and we picked and chose a group that fits in best with the core group and they all have to be on the same team, the same page," Tharen Jorgenson said.
The same intangible followed the team through each class of new Hustlers.
"Well, skill is always nice, but I don't think it's the most important thing to have. Determination and heart is the biggest thing I look for, that and tons of time spent traveling, practicing and playing," elaborated Candy Jorgenson, "As much time as we spend together, it feels like a family. I think everyone genuinely care about each other on the team and would do anything for each other. I think that makes really special."
This year tragedy struck the core of the team. Courtney Jorgenson blew out her knee and had to have major surgery.
"It was the worst thing in the world. I've seen Courtney have three major injuries. She hurt her ankle in the 8th grade. She was peaking at that time. She tore her ACL her freshman year and her ACL her senior year. It's not fair. It'll make her a stronger person and give her a desire to do whatever she wants," Tharen Jorgenson said.
"I'm happy we still have the team together, and I get to watch. The worst part is like this is my last year to play with them," said Courtney Jorgenson.
The coaches hope that the team defined the girls just as it defined them, and the parents agree.
"Becca started when she was nine, so I guess it's seven years we've been playing with them now. We've made a lot of really good college opportunities for Becca. She's gotten a lot of letters from D-I schools, all the way down to NAIA. So hopefully it'll help when she goes to school," said parent Wendy Shemmer. Each of the four seniors on the last Hustlers team have been contacted by schools interested in giving them athletic scholarships. Two girls on the team have already given verbal commitments, and now that they've gone back to school, it could be the final quarter in the history of the Hustlers.
"Nah, the Hustlers will never end. We've talked about in five years having a Hustler reunion and coaching in Show-Me-State basketball. The Hustlers will always be a family: girls that have had the experience of a lifetime. We've traveled all over the country, had a lot of experiences, and my best friends in the world are my Hustler family. My best friends in the world," reflected Tharen Jorgenson.
They are friends that became family through a bit of leather, tradition, and love.