Program puts kids on the court

THURSDAY, JAN. 15, 2009

Basketball league offers option for teen boys

The squeak of athletic shoes on the wooden floor and the thud of basketballs on the court echoed through the Warehouse on Saturday night. For the second year, the Spokane Youth Sports Association is sponsoring a recreational basketball league for high school boys who aren’t playing on school teams.

The Saturday night games had it all: sweaty players in numbered jerseys, scoreboards, buzzers, bleachers filled with fans, and shrill blasts from referees’ whistles. The only thing missing were the professionally dressed coaches frowning on the sidelines.

That’s because there are no coaches, just team captains. The teams are put together by the teens themselves. SYSA assigns teams to those who register as free agents.

“Spokane is such a basketball town,” said program coordinator LeRoy Woodrich, citing Hoopfest and Gonzaga Bulldog mania. “But there are so many kids who won’t make their high school teams.”

Woodrich said tough competition and budget constraints in high school sports leave many youth on the sidelines when they really want to be in the game.

Last year, when SYSA launched the league, there were six teams. “They had a blast,” Woodrich said. This year 78 teens play on 11 teams. The cost is $75 per player.

Sixteen-year-old Denis Bondared wiped sweat from his forehead and said, “I played basketball for Ferris last year, but this is more fun. There’s no coaches to yell at you.”

On Saturday, three games played simultaneously in the bustling venue. SYSA provides the courts, the jerseys and the officials. Referee Dana Adams said he’s glad to see this opportunity for teens.

“High school coaches are just going to pick the best players,” he said. “There’s a lot of politics and pressure on the coaches and the kids. A league like this is free from that.” And it’s great to keep teens playing basketball through the winter months, he said, instead of waiting for the next year’s school tryouts.

Stan Reed, a senior at Ferris, said he didn’t go out for basketball this year because a lot of his friends didn’t. Instead, they signed up for the SYSA program. “I’ve played basketball my whole life,” he said. “This is a lot of fun.”

That fun was still evident in some good-natured ribbing Saturday night. “Rebound that ball, son!” a dad shouted from the sidelines. His son just laughed and shrugged.

Shadle Park High School senior Chase Davis’ team dominated its game most of the night. “It’s just as competitive as high school ball,” he said. “It’s great for players who might not have made their school team. They’re still good athletes who like to play.”

Davis has played basketball since he was in first grade. “It’s a great workout,” he said. “And my favorite thing to do.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

Click here to comment on this story »