Three Cheers For Youth Basketball


February 07, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

There are a lot of ways to mark a season. Leaves fall, buds sprout and the neighborhood pools open.

As for winter, I mark it with basketball. Youth basketball to be exact.

Thanks to some pretty committed folks, there are four youth basketball associations in Howard County and enough leagues and teams to rival soccer as the community's favorite pastime.

It puts an ironic smile on my face to know that some of the most important lessons my kids will ever learn will be picked up on a Saturday, dribbling down a hardwood court. Coordination, skill, dedication and sportsmanship are pretty good qualities when you consider the alternatives.

Right now, only my son, Justin, is playing on a team, the Blue Devils.

His weekend games have become a highlight in our home, which currently doubles as broadcast central for game scores and play-by-play action for any friend or family member who cares to listen.

I sit through games unabashedly biased toward practically anything my son does on the court. Judging by the reactions of other parents, I am not alone. I literally fly out of my chair, whooping and applauding for any basket, any steal, any slight sign of brilliance that the kid shows.

And he loves it, too. He glances over for our approval, beams when he sees it, and gives the same encouragement to his teammates when they do well.

It has become such a family affair for us, we keep the folding lawn chairs in the car trunk during the entire season.

I'm tempted to put a sign out declaring the team's, as yet, undefeated record.

OK, I admit it. I've been bitten by this bug and probably suffer from some sort of mind-altering B-ball malaria. But there are others who have been bitten harder and are probably better for it.

Nate Gary comes to mind. He and his wife, Paula, and their three sons are, for me, symbols of the truly commited basketball family.

Mr. Gary, who is commissioner on the Columbia Basketball Association, has been involved in this pastime for six years, helping as an organizer, coaching and parenting.

All of his boys, who are 9, 11 and 13, are on traveling teams in Columbia through another organization, the Jaguars Basketball Association.

This, of course, is the premier league. Only the truly dedicated venture to this realm.

Like the traveling soccer teams of Howard County, the travel alone challenges the stamina and perseverance of any family.

But it is serious business, too.

School grades are made a priority, and any kid who slips academically is off the team.

hTC "We don't want the kids to think that all we think about is basketball," Mr. Gary said. "If they don't learn skills in school, basketball will not be enough to make them successful in life."

More kids, especially those from disadvantaged homes, where basketball may seem like the only ticket out, need this kind of exposure and direction.

Which brings me to why I think Howard's youth basketball associations deserve special attention and gratitude.

We should all cheer the coaches involved. They are all volunteers. And from my experience, the great majority should get medals. In fact, most of the parents who enroll their kids in leagues reward the coaches with some sort of gift at the end of each season.

The sad reality, however, is that not enough people volunteer to coach.

"It seems to me that when you look around, it's the same people volunteering all the time," said Mr. Gary, explaining why he has devoted so much time to the associations.

Often, rather than picking the most qualified coaches from a long list, organizers are forced to recruit.

We should all think about that the next time we are casting about for something we can do for others.

Teaching kids some valuable lessons that go far beyond how they handle a basketball could be the most rewarding experience there is.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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