As with most worthwhile enterprises, Hot Shots Sports was founded to help meet a need.
In 2000, Jacques and Hermalina Bolton’s son, Joshua, was a late walker at age 2. Otherwise coordinated and sports minded, the one certain way to get him up and walking was to hand him a basketball. It was then that they realized their son, and other children, might benefit from a program of sports fundamentals for his age group, which did not exist at the time.
Fortunately for Joshua, Jacques was the director of the Pasadena YMCA, having created one of the first sports leagues for 3 to 5 year olds in the nation. Together with his administrator, Suzi Allen, Bolton decided to leave his position and create his own league that would include a program for children 18 months through 2 years of age. Thus, Hot Shots began with a group of seven toddlers concentrating on fun and exciting ways to exercise and parents learning how to introduce team sports to their children in a positive way.
“The little kids just ate it up,” recalls Bolton. “We added some simple basketball fundamentals, like dribbling and defense. To our surprise, 95 percent of the kids picked it up and did well!”
What started out as seven 18- month-olds through 2-year-olds almost instantly became a group of 40 kids. As Bolton explains, “We originally had intended to have programs up to the age of 12, but the younger groups grew so fast that we had to cut it off at age 7.”‘
While not everyone may aspire to be an athlete, there is no dispute to the physical and mental benefits associated with playing team sports; not to mention the focus, discipline, self-confidence, respect, camaraderie and community alliance that it engenders.
Hot Shots league play is held at the Salvation Army Gymnasium or at Farnsworth Park, depending on the seasons, which rotate between basketball, indoor soccer, T-ball and coach pitch baseball. Each league emphasizes sportsmanship and teamwork. For three weeks before the leagues officially start, Hot Shots offers free clinics to teach the basics of each sport.
Karate, self-defense and art classes — including music and acting — are held at the program’s home location at 789 N. Altadena Drive.
Hot Shots also offers a Summer Fitness & Fun Camp for kids 8 to 15 who may need to lose weight or just have fun staying in shape. The goal is to introduce proper nutrition and fitness and decrease obesity and diabetes rates among youth.
Hot Shots Sports was created under the umbrella of A Step Ahead Learning Center, also known as A Step Ahead Preschool; which was created in 1987 by Bolton’s mother, Dr. Rose Edgar, a clinical psychologist, with the support of community leaders who had become dissatisfied with the high drop-out rates of local students. The organization’s mission is to help youth identify their natural talents so they can use them in a positive way to become productive citizens.
“We try to involve the whole family,” said Bolton. “In my opinion, there are many different reasons for this, but a lot of families are splintered today. Kids coming up … with not a lot of togetherness. We try to provide that time that they all come together in a positive way.”
Parent involvement is an integral part of the Hot Shots leagues, which will never utilize an outside coach. Instead, they train the parent volunteer coaches and scorekeepers, which makes it a much more personal experience for a young child. Taking into consideration the attention span of their little participants, each session consists of practicing their drills, learning a new skill every week, and an abbreviated game in which neither one is the winning team, until age 5. Afterward, they all enjoy healthy snack time together.
“Over the time that my son, Aidan, who is 4, has grown in the program, I’ve become more involved, more attached. I love the kids and I’ve grown to love working with them,” says Ted Jones III, an IT professional at UCLA. Jones has been a parent coach since Aidan began Hot Shots at 18 months old.
Jones has been recruited to join Hot Shots’ administration, marketing and social media team, which includes Derrick and Jhinezka Dancer, Yolanda Barker and Hermalina Bolton.
Barker, owner of Fabuless Events, is a single mother.
“My son Destin has been involved in Hot Shots since he was 18 months old,” Baker said. “He is now 6. Hot Shots has provided an opportunity to learn the sport, to socialize, and allows the family to bond with each other. I looked at several other leagues before I found Hot Shots and it was very challenging.”
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Parents are especially thankful for the affordable prices, which are made possible by sponsorship opportunities. Also provided for that affordable price are a team shirt and a trophy. T-ball and baseball sessions include a hat. Hot Shots also schedules a still photography day, once each sports session, for team and individual photos.
Even when not in Hot Shots mode, Bolton and his family practice what they preach by giving back to the community. Bolton is a youth minister at New Revelation Baptist Church in Pasadena and, through the church’s Mentoring Partnership for Youth Development program, works to encourage students at John Muir High School to bring up their grades and stay in school.
Much like his work with Muir students, positive reinforcement is the real name of the game at Hot Shots. From the outset, parents are advised against any negativity. There is plenty of applauding and cheering going on that translates into fun, confidence, teamwork and a sense of accomplishment for the little players — all valuable character building tools to be incorporated into life’s later challenges.
The Hot Shots principle calls to mind a quote from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who said, “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Hot Shots basketball runs through Sept 2. T-ball and baseball registration opens Sept 9, with play beginning Sept. 23. For more information, call (626) 786-0548 or visit astepaheadweb.org.
Full Disclosure: The author is the grandmother of one of the children in the program.