Not many families in Whatcom County can claim to be more involved in basketball than the Bateman clan.
Bob Bateman of Sumas has worked with thousands of young players and hundreds of coaches. He is in his 50th year of hoops, all on the pre-high school level.
The youngest of Bob and Cynthia's five children, 32-year-old Lynden resident Matt, played for his father and is back in coaching.
Two of Matt's players are 7-year-old son Connor and 8-year-old nephew Lucas Baughn. Another of the Batemans' 13 grandchildren, 13-year-old Josh Baughn, a seventh-grader at Nooksack Middle School, is helping coach young kids and keeping the scoreboard at games.
That happily makes Cynthia one of the county's few "three-generation" fans.
Maybe it isn't all just because a coach handed Bob Bateman a whistle when he was 13, but that whistle played a big part in inspiring his future avocation.
"I wanted to play basketball so very much, but the physical education teacher didn't pick me to play on the (school) team," he recalled. "But he give me the whistle to ref. I found I liked officiating."
Not long after he graduated from high school in the Chicago suburb of Markham, he found he liked coaching even more.
Ultimately, a few years after he and Cynthia moved their family to Whatcom County in 1979, that led to his creation of Youth in Action.
"It was a takeoff on Athletes in Action," he said of the Christian basketball organization.
Over the years, Youth in Action has sponsored a variety of teams for elementary school youngsters learning the game and for older pre-high school players on teams ranging from the Whatcom County Boys and Girls Clubs to select travel squads.
Bateman, a 68-year-old real estate agent who operates Riverside Realty, currently oversees eight teams with 70 players - a four-team training league for players in second, third and fourth grades, and four traveling teams for players in fourth, fifth (2) and sixth grades through the Boys and Girls Clubs.
"This has all been made possible because (his family's church) Christ Fellowship in Everson 26 years ago invested in a huge youth center, a 30,000 square foot building. The church allows us to use the gym for our program and we make donations."
Speaking of finances, Bateman is proud to say, "We offer the least expensive (youth sports) program in the county." Families of younger players, who have an eight-week season, pay $20 and families of older players pay $40, with numerous scholarships available for low-income families.
Since coaches tend to move on to follow their children after they age out of his program, Bateman keeps an eye out for coaching prospects among parents and others.
"I coached until about 15 years ago. Now I coach the coaches," he said with a grin. "I give them advice. For our younger players, coaches are selected on the basis of a tender, caring attitude, not necessarily basketball knowledge. For our older teams, coaches have to have a skill knowledge. We always say, 'Fun is number one'."
Bateman has welcomed women to his coaching ranks, too.
"We don't currently have any women coaching, but we had two women who did an excellent job in the past three years," he said.
Matt Bateman, a project manager for Axiom Construction, finds himself excited to be back in coaching, and it isn't connected with wins and losses.
"We stress sportsmanship, learning skills and trying to win," said Matt. "We worked on rebounding recently and I was thrilled when we had two-thirds on the rebounds in our next game, even though we lost. I have a great group of kids this year."
Bob isn't one to boast, but he can't hide his pride in Matt.
"Matt has a unique ability to coach the kids with authority, love and understanding of their needs," Bob said.
And how did Matt develop these skills?
"By modeling my dad," Matt said. "I'd say the same thing about him. You couldn't keep coaching (in youth sports) as long as Dad has unless you have those qualities."
Bob says that for the younger kids, the officials taking their development into ability when calling fouls, so the games don't drag on endlessly. In addition, individual point totals are not kept.
Matt looks like a former high school athlete, but he chose to go to work instead.
"I do wish I had played high school football and basketball," said Matt, a graduate of Lynden High. "When I was a freshman at Nooksack Valley, I broke my foot before the C team's basketball season started. After I transferred to Lynden, I went to work (instead of turning out for sports)."
Both Batemans feel a job can be an important educational aspect for high school students, but they do encourage making room for sports.
"You have your entire life to work," Matt said.
Many high school sports standouts have gone through the Youth in Action program, including the likes of Scott Campbell (Ferndale), Dan Parcher and Derric Croft (Lynden), Tom Ackerman, Tyler Mitchell and Robb Myhre (Nooksack Valley), Roger Chamberlain (Sehome) and Bob Nevitt (Anacortes), to name just a few.