[Courtesy photo]

The Grand County Middle School boys basketball team played a record-breaking 56 games last season, competing in tournaments across the Southwest, from Gallup, New Mexico, to Salt Lake City and Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to St. George. The team couldn’t have done it without the support of the boys’ dedicated parents, but it may not exist at all were it not for the devotion and hard work of its head coach.

Conrad Yanito’s sons inspired him to get involved in Moab’s sports scene in 2002 as a Junior Jazz assistant coach. When his oldest son was in fifth grade, he decided to start a travel team for the town. Six years ago, he moved over to the middle school as head coach for the Thunderbirds team at GCMS, and brought the travel team approach with him.

Though his own sons have long since left the sport behind, Yanito recognizes what an important role basketball can play in a boy’s life during those pivotal middle school years, he said. That is what drives his work with the team. With the help of parent volunteers, he coordinates multiple fundraisers during off-season. From lawn aeration to hosting tournaments that bring in teams from across the Southwest, Yanito figures out creative ways to make sure all the boys get the chance to test themselves against a wide, diverse array of competing teams.

“The nicest thing about coaching at an early age is seeing them grow and achieve as they move on to high school, in every way,” Yanito said. “It’s not just about basketball.”

He and his assistant coaches emphasize strong values as a foundation of the team’s success, focusing particularly on patience, commitment and respect, he said. The Thunderbirds’ seventh- and eighth-grade team rosters total between 30 and 35 boys every season, and Yanito works hard to ensure every boy gets court time in every game.

Over the years, Yanito has grown the program to give the team opportunities to play against more schools in larger urban areas, and to experience the wider region surrounding Moab. One of the greatest opportunities this has afforded is giving the boys a chance to play against their Navajo neighbors, Connie Wilson said. Wilson was an assistant to the team last season, and her son played with the Thunderbirds for two years before he entered ninth grade.

Yanito has been an instrumental influence on her son, she said, helping hone his athletic abilities and also opening a window to new cultures and experiences away from home.

“They are never without something to do,” Wilson said. “To me as a parent, that is a huge thing, especially in these years. What it does is keep the boys busy and surrounded by mentors.”

Yanito loves it, he said. He appreciates the support of GCMS, the district and especially the parents in giving his boys the opportunities they work so hard for, testing their skills in new places against new teams throughout the season. This season is shaping up to be another success, and he only sees that continuing on into the future.

This profile was made possible by the generous support of Rocky Mountain Power.

This Week: Conrad Yanito