Chad King helps local girls’ hoopsters achieve dreams

Red Dragons provide an avenue for exposure

Photo provided Belpe native and co-founder of the Ohio Valley Red Dragons’ Chad King coaches his junior team during a 2019 Amatuer Athletic Union Tournament in June. King has been helping local young ladies achieve their dreams for the past ten years on and off the court.

BELPRE — Regret manifests in different ways across the emotional spectrum. Chad King’s regret generated not joy, sadness or madness but curiosity.

Shortly after he and fellow Belpre basketball teammates and brought the school a state championship game appearance in 1993, King made the decision to attend Ohio State University to work on a degree in sociology and to play on the practice squad.

He proved a natural at basketball as did many of his family members. The Kings are well known for the sport in the Waterford area with cousin Sina, who played for Akron, owning the 2014-15 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year trophy.

King, a 6-foot-6 power forward, received several offers from NCAA Division II teams in W.Va. and Ohio, but he turned them down to become a Buckeye, though he never played serious minutes in Columbus.

But, he wondered in the back of his head as he aged, ‘What if I had gone somewhere and played varsity ball?’

“It just wasn’t a big deal back then,” said King of his initial decision. “Nobody knew about offers because social media didn’t exist and playing in college wasn’t at the forefront of thoughts. Coaches weren’t coming to see one kid in a small town unless they were really special and if someone saw you play that is how they knew about you.”

Love for the game visibly continued past his days on the hardwood. Several friends inquired his interest in coaching their kid’s team at the youth level. Curiosity bested him and while he said no he did sign up as an assistant.

This was the hook as King discovered a way to ensure any of his young players would never experience the regret he felt as a youth. Any youngster desiring to play ball at the next level would have the tools, including national exposure and contact with coaches.

And so, the Amateur Athletic Union girls’ basketball team Ohio Valley Red Dragons formed in 2009 inside Belpre High School. Choosing girls came as an easy decision as King worked with them during his time with the youth programs.

Brett Cowdery, Joe Monday and brother Chris joined him as leaders.

Exposure and coaching contacts wouldn’t be the only focuses. King made sure the girls matched up with a school academically as well as on an athletic basis.

Growing the program’s stature at the cost of achieving the high numbers of Division I commits as possible wouldn’t happen, especially if those commits attended a different school or left higher education all together one year later.

Losses of scholarship often come along with many transfers, unless the new school offers some aid.

“I have never had an employer ask me ‘Where did you play basketball at,’ said King. “I want them to use basketball as a means to an end.”

The group started local with kids around the Mid-Ohio Valley Area and several small AAU tournaments. Now, all regularly play against the nationally recognized W.Va. Thunder out of Huntington and Ohio Express out of Zanesville.

Picking a better time to start proved impossible as Connecticut, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Baylor’s women’s programs provided several role models.

Interest exploded and as the program grew so did the number of teams in the organization. King and company went from ninth-, 10th- and 11th- grade teams to groups stretching back to grade school. Current local players include Makenna Winans (Parkersburg South), Leslie Huffman (Park. Catholic), Aleea Crites (PHS) and Kyndra Pilant (Magnolia).

Ashlie Louden, a member of the Dragons, told King about Pilant. and she is glad Louden did.

“Chad has done so much for me in the short two years I have known him,” she said. “He is an amazing coach and he helps us (players) and pushes us to be the best we can be. He makes all the sweat and hard work we put in fun.”

The program has found success placing kids in achieving situations. Over 70 alumni graduated to play at the next level successfully including Liz Flowers (West Liberty), Kelsie Fickeisen (Youngstown State), and Riley Fitzwater (Concord).

Fickeisen also became the first Dragon alumni signed to a scholarship.

It was one of the most satisfying moments during King’s time with the group.

“One of the hardest things to do is to get them to believe in themselves but kids in this area have proven they can compete,” said King.

The program’s reputation has certainly grown. Recruitment areas expanded from the MOV in those early years and now goes from Cincinnati to Morgantown.

It was in Morgantown where King’s passion helped reignite University and 2019 Class AAA All-State First Team player Ashten Boggs’ love for the sport. She currently drives two hours for practice over the summer.

“At first it was pretty cool when he contacted me to play on a travel team, but I really wasn’t loving basketball at that moment. He told me if I came to play for him he would help me love the game again and ever since I started playing we have had a pretty unbreakable bond,” said Boggs.

King suffers through awkward situations for talent if he must as well. Point Pleasant’s fanbase knew King didn’t belong in the gym when he came to scout Andrea Porter but things worked out.

“It was awkward for the most part but now when I walk into a gym people know who I am again for the most part,” he said.

In fact, several schools have reached out to him about coaching jobs at high schools but his shift work doesn’t allow him the time.

Besides, the Dragons celebrate a 10-year anniversary with a cookout and alumni game in 34 days on Joe Garrett Court inside Belpre High School.

“It is rewarding to watch the kids grow up and not just in sports but in their careers,” said King. “The girls learn life lessons in sports.

“I am not really sure I could give this up. We can set goals for the girls other than wins and establish fundamentals and help them grow as players too.”