It had been 18 years since Fort Campbell boasted a Screaming Eagles basketball team. In 2018, a group of Fort Campbell Soldiers changed that, joined the Military Basketball Association, and went on to win the Central United States Basketball Conference championship that year.
Now, in their second season, the Screaming Eagles are ready to go all the way.
“Last season was our first time establishing a team here since 2001, and as you can see, we became conference champs our first season out,” head coach Paul Parker said.
Fort Campbell competes against Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Carson, Colorado; Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas; Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri; Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Fort Hood, Texas; Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; Barksdale Air Force Base Louisiana; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The teams also play against various colleges and universities.
“We are all volunteer coaches that take players from each installation and build a basketball program with them,” Parker said. “We take them out to play against college teams, compete in different tournaments for experience, and then we compete in our actual Central United States Basketball Conference, which could lead to the finals for All-Military Basketball.”
The first conference game takes place Nov. 16 at Staff Sgt. Eric B. Shaw Physical Fitness Center, because Fort Campbell is the defending 2018 conference champions. The national championship takes place in April 2020.
“We completed tryouts at the end of September, all of the players except for four new players are returning from last season,” Parker said. “We practice three days a week and a day of conditioning, usually. They are still obligated to all of their military duties, so if they have to go to the field or deploy, then they miss that portion of the game or season. We are allowed to hold a larger than usual roster, so if we have Soldiers who are missing we can still play.”
The Fort Campbell basketball program is still growing, relying on support from sponsors and the Fort Campbell Morale, Wefare and Recreation, and their own out of pocket contributions.
“The MWR supports us more than anything, none of this would be possible without Fort Campbell MWR,” Parker said. “We wouldn’t have a place to play or some of the things we need to compete and travel. Coach AJ (Master Sgt. Ajaie Albert) and I pay most of this out of our pockets, but we do get occasional donations. We try to limit how much the players have to contribute financially, because they are mostly young Soldiers. We try not to put too much strain on them, and because it’s a volunteer thing, we come out of our own pocket a lot.”
While hoping to draw in more fans and supporters of the team, the team could also benefit from having sponsors.
“We would love more funding and sponsors if people are interested,” Parker said. “We really appreciate any help we get, toward the end of the season it does get hard. The program largely benefits our military and our post. People need to see more of us, we want people to see our program and how it benefits these Soldiers.”
Captain Dane Wright, 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Abn. Div., is returning for his second season on the team.
“We are going on two years now,” Wright said. “It’s a lot of fun, a lot of these individuals have played on a high level in high school or college, some have even played overseas, so the opportunity to still be competitive and play, doing something we love, it’s really fun. I’ve played basketball my whole life, so this is a great way to keep us competitive and give us an outlet.”
Soldiers can benefit in many ways from participating in the program.
“There are Soldiers that are offered scholarships to play college basketball through this program,” Albert said. “Some of these Soldiers came straight of high school and joined the military and didn’t have the opportunity to play in college or never got seen playing basketball. When we play these college teams in non-conference games, if these Soldiers are eligible, they’ll pick them up after they transition out of the military.”
Another returning player, Sgt. Trent Gordon, D Co. 6th Battalion, 101st General Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Abn. Div., said the training they do for basketball helps with military training.
“We want to show other installations across the country how ready we are for action, how much we prepare,” Gordon said. “A lot of things from playing basketball transfer over to our work with the Army, especially the physical aspect. A lot of our time is dedicated to training with our team, and that’s what the Army is: one big team.”
Wright agrees, saying playing on the team also gives him a chance to connect more with the Fort Campbell community.
“Being part of an extended community outside of the Army has been a great experience,” he said. “We are all spread around throughout the division, but we play together several times a week, so we have the bond and community feel with each other.”
As the team prepares for the season opener, they hope the Fort Campbell community will come out to support them.
“Last year was a good season, hopefully we can build on top of that, and help make Fort Campbell look good,” Albert said. “We are young team, people don’t always know what to expect, but we hope to have a good season. When we travel and play, we are representing Fort Campbell and the Army. We travel so many places, and we would love to have the support of Fort Campbell behind us during the season. We would love to get a fan base going.”
To keep up with the Fort Campbell Eagles, like and follow their Facebook page to stay up to date and plan your visit to a game to watch them in action. https://www.facebook.com/FtCampbellEagles/