MOUNT AIRY - For two years, Grant Berry wanted Mount Airy to provide more recreation basketball opportunities for its youth.
Monday night his wish finally became reality.
A newly formed in-house rec hoops program, operated by the Mount Airy Youth Athletic Association and the Mount Airy Recreation Council, opened its doors for the first time at Mount Airy Elementary School.
The program features both instruction and a 10- to 12-game schedule plus postseason playoffs. The league's game schedule, for youngsters in the first through eighth grades, starts next month and runs through mid-March.
Berry, who supervises activities for the first four grades, says about 90 children have signed up for his portion of the program at Mount Airy Elementary.
The fifth through eighth grades will play at Mount Airy Middle School, as will the two new traveling teams representing Mount Airy in the county Boys Basketball League A and B divisions.
The two former Mount Airy boys traveling squads left after disputes between the teams' officials and other Mount Airy rec leaders. Those squads now represent Woodbine in the county boys loop.
Dave Spencer, who coaches the new Mount Airy B traveling team, symbolizes in many ways the rec basketball program.
A first-year coach, he heads a team on which only four of the 12 players have played organized basketball.
"It's really a big transition for them," Spencer said of his relatively inexperienced 11- and 12-year-olds. "Most have never learned to handle the ball or how to shoot properly."
But, he said, his team has come far since it began practice early last month. "If we can get the jitters out, we'll be a team to reckon with," he added.
Rich Jacobs, who coaches the A team for 13- and 14-year-olds, has more experienced players but said his team lacks height. He also hasn't had time to develop an offensive system.
But, he said, "I always try to emphasize defense because that is most important."
As for the coming year, he said, "I have no idea how we'll do. I don't want to get killed every week. We want to be competitive. But I think we'll give some teams a game."
The heart of the program is the in-house program, because that is where the vast majority of the local youngsters will play and benefit from their exposure to the game.
Mount Airy resident Tom Lewis, who oversees the entire basketball program, said the in-house leagues will be a feeder to the traveling squads, making them very competitive in a year or two.
"I didn't know how many we'd get when we started sign-ups, but I didn't expect this many," Lewis said of his registration, which totals 150 for the in-house and travel programs.
Berry said the demand has been there but that competition posed by rec programs in Linganore and Winfield, along with the dearth of local playing facilities (Mount Airy Elementary was being renovated) scotched rec basketball in Mount Airy for a time.
"But now all the pieces have come together," he said.
Well, at least most of the pieces have.
There may be a shortage of players for the in-house fifth-eighth grade league unless some of the traveling team players also play there.
And, while there are enough coaches for the first-to-fourth grade in-house teams, the older ones need coaching help.
Lewis spent several years coaching in the Winfield basketball program and said he may have to return to courtside.
"I'll coach one of them (fifth-eighth grade teams) myself if I have to," he said.
Berry said a primary emphasis of the in-house program, particularly in this formative year, is to instruct.
Accordingly, early games will see some lengthy timeouts as referees explain fouls and other infractions to the players rather than simply blow the whistle. The refs will toughen up as the season goes on, Berry said.
In keeping with this emphasis on instruction rather than competition, he added, "We've told the coaches we want them low-key. Coaching isn't to be an avenue for frustrated athletes."
Lewis said a well-run program will attract players who now go elsewhere.
He expects his operation to grow in the next few years.
Berry also is optimistic, saying, "We're excited about doing it."