It’s hard to miss Karla Chappel’s passion for basketball and kids.
At any given opportunity, Chappel will expound on the intricacies of basketball or the talent of one of her hoopers. It led her to create Hoop Dreams Nation, an organization that provides 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 basketball tournaments, basketball camps and more.
“[Karla’s] a great person and provides opportunities for our community and kids,” said Eric Kaiser, Harrison High School boys basketball coach. “Not only [for kids to] play, but [to] work and create stability.”
Hoop Dreams Nation, however, nearly remained on the sidelines.
After graduating from University of Michigan in 2009, Chappel, the founder and director of Hoop Dreams Nation, moved back to Colorado. Shortly afterward, she coached the sixth-grade boys basketball team at Carmel Middle School and the following year, became the full-time coach for the seventh-grade boys.
During their final game at Lewis-Palmer Middle School, one of the boys approached Chappel and asked, “What are we going to do after this?”
“The season’s over with,” Chappel said.
One of them purportedly responded and said, “Well we don’t want it to be over with.”
“The next day after school I was driving home and two of the kids on the team who would’ve been at practice were walking down Chelton [Road]. I couldn’t get this quote out of my head: ‘If not you, who? If not now, when?’”
Witnessing a pair of her athletes roaming the streets revitalized Chappel. That night, she researched offseason opportunities for kids who play basketball. The next day she asked her players if they wanted to continue playing.
“That was a stupid question, of course they wanted to keep playing,” she said. “I convinced our principal to use the gym after school and [offer] additional practices. I coached softball after basketball season, so I’d stay at the school and the boys would show up to practice.”
While it proved rewarding to keep kids active and in the gym, the work exhausted Chappel physically and financially.
“I calculated [a total] around $6,000 to $7,000 that I spent, and that’s on a teacher’s salary,” she said. “It became apparent I couldn’t keep financing this team, but saying ‘We’re done’ wasn’t an option for me. I saw an opportunity to start tournaments in Colorado Springs and got the OK to do so.
“The first year, in 2013, we had just two [tournaments] – one in January and another in February. The following year it was the same, and we went to four [tournaments] by 2015.”
Throughout that time, numerous community members chipped in to assist with supplies, coaching, rides, officiating or opening their doors to help Chappel’s teams practice.
Among the many helpers were: Kaiser; former Mitchell High School boys basketball coach Jeff Cooks; Jeremy Andrick, former Wildflower Elementary School assistant principal; and Sierra girls basketball coach Joseph Williams.
“Joe stepped in and opened the gym and let them practice while he was up there,” Chappel said. “He’s been crucial to doing all of the little things that nobody sees. This all wouldn’t happen without him. He’s been my Day 1, that’s for sure. My son calls him ‘Uncle Joe’ now. Everyone running these teams has benefitted from Joe and him being a pillar in the community.”
Williams continues to help Chappel because, “We are family, and family helps family.” He recognizes the importance of Hoop Dreams Nation and provides assistance whenever and wherever necessary.
“As the coach at Sierra, I’m in a great situation to help the youth of our community,” Williams said. “We look out for the youth of our future. Not just Sierra kids, but from other high schools as well. Karla has given many teens, especially athletes, an opportunity to learn workforce skills without taking away their growth of the sport they love.”
Hoop Dreams Nation became an official entity in 2017 and Chappel, with the help of the community, continues to grow the platform. More than 60 teams participate in its tournaments.
“Over the years she’s opened up and started a great thing with opportunities for some kids to work for her organization,” Kaiser said. “She’s done some great things for the game of basketball, as well as [for] kids and families. She’s received help from a lot of people in the community to get insight and help the program and help manage parents.”
Chappel knows the importance of sports to the lives of kids. Sports helped her transition from athlete to a formidable coach, and she uses her platform to allow kids to see the light within themselves.
“A coach can build you and destroy you at the same time; I’ve seen the same thing with my players,” Chappel said. “When I had the opportunity to stop playing [basketball] to become a coach, I did.
“We don’t talk to kids enough about building an identity. What does that look like for them? I had to rebuild my identity. I still do that with my players. We have to stay focused on the kids and their development on and off the court.”