Hoop Dreams: A first-time entrepreneur gets State College kids onto the court

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Entrepreneurism and sports have a lot in common. Success in both requires skill, passion, determination and the willingness to accept coaching.

For Dan McKenna, founder of State College’s Hoop Stars, launching a basketball program for young children was a natural fit. A member of the the Penn State team from 1990 to 1994, McKenna was playing in adult leagues, coaching his son, and managing a youth basketball program, but noticed that there were no local programs for preschoolers.

Dan McKenna cheers on Donald Ferrell, 3, as he shoots a basket during a Hoops Stars class at Park Forest Baptist Church

“After all of these years, I have decided to pursue what I love the most and teach the game of basketball to children,” he says. But despite having “a vision of what I wanted my business to be, I didn’t know how to get started. I honestly had no idea how to launch a business and it was a little overwhelming initially.”

Like any good player, McKenna recognized the need for coaching and turned to Bellefonte Springboard. The business incubator offers legal, accounting and marketing advice, and provides a network of other small business and startup owners to share ideas.

In December, McKenna won second place in Springboard’s business startup competition. The prize included $2,000 cash, which helped build Hoop Stars’ website. McKenna also credits the Small Business Development Center at Penn State with helping him score.

For the youngest children, I stress love of the sport, being a good sport and teammate, respect of self and others, teamwork, and patience.Dan McKenna

McKenna officially launched his company in January. In the first six months, he’s taught more than 200 kids, mostly preschoolers. He’s currently getting two summer camp programs underway (the first already exceeded his registration goal), expanding his age-based offerings, building a fall after-school program and winter league for kindergarteners and first graders, and considering Hoop Stars birthday parties.

For the littlest kids, Hoop Stars curriculum focuses on fundamental skills (dribbling, passing, shooting and defense), and improving coordination and motor skills. School-age kids learn more advanced skills such as offensive plays and defensive principles. The program also emphasizes fun and intangibles.

Dan McKenna encourages one of his preschoolers to make a chest pass during a Hoops Stars class

“I focus on instilling positive values that will hopefully carry outside of the court and positively shape their lives,” says McKenna. “For the youngest children, I stress love of the sport, being a good sport and teammate, respect of self and others, teamwork, and patience.

“Older children are able to grasp the idea of commitment, perseverance and humility,” he continues. “And one of the hardest [things] to learn is how to lose… How to lose gracefully is the cardinal rule of sportsmanship. This means not blaming a teammate for missing a hoop or being out of position, not blaming the referee. It is so important to applaud the opponent, shake hands and try your best next time.”

It’s an essential lesson for all competitive sports, including entrepreneurship.

ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.

Region: South Central

Community, Entrepreneurship, Made in PA, State College, youth