I arrived at Long Lines Family Rec Center around 4 p.m. last Saturday and all I could hear were sharp barrages of squeaking shoes and the pounding percussion of a basketball echoing off the brick walls of the long, winding corridors leading to the gymnasium. It was community appreciation night. Crowd chatter filled the room with a cloud of white noise, broken only by referee whistles and the occasional play-by-play commentary over the in-house PA system.

Sioux City’s only semi-pro basketball team had just begun to play. They call themselves the Outlaws. Five players consistently hustled up and down the court while two of their remaining teammates waited on the sidelines with assistant coach Teresa Smith. On the opposite side of the gym, head coach and general manager Nelson Wilson kept a close eye on his team and corralled the children horsing around near the closed off bleachers.

The Outlaws were dressed in white jerseys and red shorts. Their opponents, the Sioux Nation, donned red jerseys. Both sides appeared to have a casual and laidback approach within the first few minutes of the game. They smiled and bantered like friendly rivals playing a pick-up game.

The crowd watched the game seated in the stands or on folded chairs near the sideline; a handful onlookers stood on the floor, propping themselves against the padded walls to keep one eye on the game and other on their children playing on the far side of the court more than 20 yards away from the basketball hoops. Parents balanced nachos, hot dogs and drinks in their hands while making their way to their bleacher seats, missing only a few two-pointers from either side.

It was a casual atmosphere. Like a neighborhood block party, everyone was free to do as they please. They could eat arena food, chat with friends, walk around the outskirts of the court or mess around on their phones. But there was still a level of attentiveness from spectators. Most important, they were there to support the Outlaws, a fledgling team just barely a year old and with an undefeated record. So you can bet they were dead set on giving their fans a good game.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal
Outlaws' Coco Cofield takes the ball downcourt against Sioux Nation during basketball action at Long Lines Family Rec Center.

COMPETITIVE SPIRIT

And a good game it was. The final score was 118-80; the Outlaws remained unbeaten. Leading the Sioux City team in points was Coco Cofield (#22), who contributed 36. Cofield, age 35, showed up every quarter of the game, contributing to plays even when the Outlaws’ defense faltered during the second half of the game. Whether it was collaborating with his fellow teammates to execute flashy plays in one smooth motion or securing clutch layups, Cofield was consistently on point.

Having taken part in about a half dozen Sioux City Outlaws games, Cofield finds comfort in the competitive nature of its players. “I enjoy competing at a high level,” he said. “I’m still playing the game. I still love the game. The game has been blessed to me.”

In addition to his experience playing basketball overseas and in the NBA D-League among others, Cofield also serves as the boys head basketball coach at West High School. Joining the Outlaws, Cofield said, allows him to keep his competitive edge alongside players who have a desire to not only play, but to win.

And that’s something I began to notice after the first half of Saturday’s game against Sioux Nation. Despite all the smiles and friendly player-to-player banter prevalent in the first quarter of the game, there was a definite mood shift by the time the second quarter ended. Any on-court altercations between players and refs were brief and quickly put to an end by Coach Wilson telling his guys to “Knock it off.” Players shrugged it off and went back at it. The clock was ticking, and both teams wanted the win.

Even when sitting out of the game, the Outlaws’ competitive natures shone through. Players like Nate Deal (#3) and Marcus Watkins (#5) were among the most vocal, pushing their teammates and hyping up their play. Good morale boosters.

They were especially fond of Weston Wood (#34), who was on a hot streak of stellar defensive and offensive play in the middle of the second quarter. He ended the night with 25 points to his name, second behind Cofield. Wood previously played for the Great Plains Bison, the only Native American owned and operated semi-pro basketball team in the Great Plains. “I’m glad they asked me to play here,” he said. “It’s serious and I love it.”

The quiet and reserved Wood received a fair bit of encouragement from the Sioux City crowd for his consecutive plays, eventually cracking a gentle smile when fans applauded in favor of him. “They get me into it,” Wood admitted. “And I got my teammates telling me to shoot.” His two daughters also served as Wood’s personal cheer section.

Jim Lee, The Weekender
Outlaws' Martez Van Buren (25) and Outlaws' Alvin Gunter (4) reach for a rebound against Sioux Nation during basketball action at Long Lines Family Rec Center.

JOIN THE COMMUNITY

Last weekend’s game attracted dozens of families to the Rec Center gymnasium. In addition to being able to compete with teams based out of the Midwest, Cofield said he’s most proud of the Outlaws’ “positive environment” and its emphasis on connecting with children and the community. This became clear during the half-time show. Outlaws gathered on either end of the court while kids lined up to shoot free throws. If they make it, they’re awarded with a free Powerade.

During this time, players gave the kids pointers and words of encouragement. Some even allowed kids to take multiple shots if they just barely missed the rim. Toddlers and teenagers and in-betweens took turns trying to make a free throw.

Little girls and boys threw their basketballs in both hands -- launching them like a catapult -- and jumped for joy when they made the basket. An older kid took his time trying to set up the shot only to facepalm when he came up short, barely touching the net. A middle school- or high school-aged kid went on a long streak shooting 3-pointers near the end of half-time -- he almost never missed.

Once the game was over and the opposing players shook hands, the Outlaws turned their attention toward the crowd and gave them a round of applause and many genuine thank-yous for coming out to support the team.

A team that is still young but determined to do great things for Sioux City, fulfilling another spectrum of the town’s sports culture. Whether it’s going undefeated against other league teams or inspiring the youth to pick up a basketball, the Outlaws have a calling. It’s worth a shot.

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