A fast break for girls rec league basketball

Reorganization of county program proves successful

December 14, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A recent girls high school basketball game in the metro area that featured two very good players showed just how the sport has changed in recent years. Scouts from the University of North Carolina, University of Delaware, Georgetown University, McDaniel College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County were there to watch two of the area's top-ranked teams and - they hoped - recruit some players.

The good high school players these days usually have one thing in common: They had played in strong recreation basketball leagues before entering high school. Recreation leagues - often called "feeder systems" - help high schools stay competitive, teach girls the game and are growing in popularity in Anne Arundel County.

Some community groups throughout the county run leagues, but the program run by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks keeps growing. The county leagues this winter have six age groups - from 8-year-olds to 17-year-olds - with about 160 teams and about 1,700 players.

All of the leagues have 10-game seasons, with teams playing once a week. The younger girls, ages 8-13, play Saturdays in a number of different gyms. The older girls, 14-17, go Sundays. The 8-13 divisions started play last weekend and the 14-17s are scheduled to begin this weekend, after the final cuts from local high school teams.

John Spinnenweber is the Bachman Sports Complex superintendent who runs the younger three age groups with Jeff Porter. Spinnenweber, also the varsity girls coach at Chesapeake High, works with Porter in running the 8-9, 10-11 and 12-13 age groups. Those are the leagues that have grown in popularity and will field about 140 teams - with about 1,500 girls.

"It's grown by leaps and bounds within the last few years," Spinnenweber said.

One of the community groups shows a good example of this growth. The Severna Park Green Hornets organization has become so large that it plays its intramural competition during the fall because there aren't enough gymnasiums for everyone during the winter. During regular basketball season, the group puts together some "select" teams that compete in the county leagues.

The county leagues include older girls who play in three divisions: 14-15B, 14-15C and 16-17. Players choose the B or C designation for themselves; the A level would make someone a "select" or high school varsity-type player.

Sports supervisor Bob Brandenburger, who is in charge of the older groups, said the way the county reorganized the program last year has proved to be a big success.

In years past, 14-year-olds would have the option of playing down with 12- and 13-year-olds or up with kids as old as 17. But that was a tricky situation on either side, he said. The 14-year-olds would be competing with girls who either weren't nearly as athletic or were too athletic for them.

That's why the age groups were made tighter last year. Now, 14-year-olds are only playing with 15-year-olds. After that move was made throughout the county's programs last year, they went from needing three gyms to needing nine with the boys and girls.

"You really can't have a 14-year-old, a freshman, playing with seniors like that," Brandenburger said. "It made it tough. It was a good move."

It also makes for better games and better learning of the sport. This is another reason why the development of girls in the Anne Arundel programs has sped up.

Phil Stern is one of the people who has noticed. Stern is the women's basketball coach at UMBC in Catonsville. He's got freshman Stacy Hunt on his team this year. Hunt came to the Retrievers from South River High, where she helped lead the Seahawks to the state finals last year.

"It's a place we've been able to go to and recruit," Stern said of Anne Arundel County. "There's a lot of emphasis on recreation ball for girls nowadays, and it's helped to develop a lot of good players."

Stern, Brandenburger and Spinnenweber agreed that the strong rec programs are good feeder systems for the high schools that fare well. Arundel High, for example, has had one of the strongest girls programs in the state for the past several years. That school is fortunate in that it can draw from a number of rec programs and receive girls who are already well-schooled in the game.

Stern said that's why good rec programs are crucial to the success of high schools - and, later, colleges.

"I think that if you look throughout the country, the counties with good rec programs are generally the ones who do well," he said. "The fact that [Anne Arundel] can fill up the age groups now shows the development of the program. Now the kids are getting a better experience ... and the competition is better.

jseid1234@yahoo.com

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