Basketball, a numbers game

Crunch: With growing numbers of players, some youth programs are struggling to find gym time.

Howard At Play

December 21, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

In a school gym somewhere near you, Howard County's amateur basketball season is well under way with, it would seem, more youth players than ever but something of a decline in adult play.

The largest single program is being conducted by the Western Howard County Youth Basketball Association, which has about 2,000 players - two-thirds or more of them boys - competing in 16 public school gyms ranging from Fulton to the south to Mount View Middle in the north.

That figure of 2,000 is about even with enrollment last winter, said association President Pete Geoghan, of Highland, in his second season leading the program.

But it is a figure that is also frustrating, Geoghan said, with the club having again to cap waiting lists in some age groups because of a lack of gymnasium space, even with so many school floors in play.

"It's not a huge number of kids we're unable to accommodate," he said, "but the fact that it exists at all is a shame."

The club's active program, with still more homes being built throughout the western county, has some club leaders talking informally about what it might take for the association to build a gymnasium. But club directors have taken no position, Geoghan said.

A sampling of what else is happening, not counting several travel-oriented clubs with small enrollments:

Explosions: Two central-county clubs, the Ellicott City-based Howard County Youth Program and the Elkridge Youth Organization, have more players than they did a year ago. HCYP, which began as a baseball-only club, now has about 1,700 basketball players, "probably the biggest ever for us" in the estimation of second-year Commissioner Terry Teeters.

"Our boys leagues are just exploding," Teeters said. One surprise, he said, is a clinic for 7-year-olds that has 150 boys involved on Saturday afternoons.

Like western Howard County, HCYP is having trouble with gym time, particularly for practices, Teeters said.

"Our time is being usurped," he said, referring to blocks of time the club has had in past years at several schools now being allocated for adult volleyball, adult basketball.

HCYP's leaders decided two years ago to begin putting aside money from each registration to be used to build facilities - still undefined, but some former leaders said that could mean a gymnasium, as well as ball fields.

EYO, showing renewed energy in all of its four sports, has about 550 players this winter, up from about 300 last season. A noticeable difference is an increase in the number of girls signed up - an aspect the club has been working to improve.

"We're really stoked about basketball right now," said EYO President George Wilkinson, who is working with Brian Wilson in administering the basketball program.

Deflation: The Columbia Basketball Association, one of the county's oldest youth programs, has about 800 players this winter, said Herb Nicholls, who describes himself as a co-leader of the association. That figure is down about 100 players from a year ago, he said.

"We're strongest in boys between 10 and 13. But the girls side is the real challenge for us," Nicholls said. "We just can't seem to get girls involved, and some of the other clubs we talk with are telling us the same thing. ... If it keeps going this way, the high schools are going to start having trouble fielding teams."

CBA's girls this winter number about 225, he said, with a dearth of numbers in the youngest age groups.

Like the other youth clubs mentioned here, CBA is fielding travel teams for boys and girls in each age group through 13-year- olds, or pre-high school, Nicholls said.

Competition: Several youth club officials noted an increase in competition for Howard County travel-level players from, especially, the Maryland Sure Shots, a Lansdowne-based club that specializes in travel-level basketball and has said it will be building facilities.

Raiding players from other travel teams, it should be noted, is a constant complaint in all youth sports. Travel teams place more emphasis on winning than do recreation-level clubs, which are more focused on instruction and having fun.

Adult ball: Men play in leagues operated by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks virtually year-round, and a women's league was formed for the first time in many years last winter.

But when winter leagues open play next month, there will be about a dozen fewer men's teams and one less women's team, said Mark Pendleton, the rec department supervisor who oversees the leagues.

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