Youth basketball once again becomes the focus for Starkville Parks and Recreation Department in mid January.
This program is known as Starkville Area Youth or SAY, which dates back to previous days before the Parks and Recreation department took over the program.
According to sport coordinator Shelia Runnels, Starkville Parks and Recreation inherited the program in 2011 and while not much has changed for the participants or in the actual games, logistically things are centralized and organized.
“SAY has always been really organized,” Runnels said. “I think what has helped by Starkville Parks and Recreation taking over is we are able to play in a facility where everything is one place, where as before we played at Armstrong Middle School and Henderson School gyms. We would have people all the time showing up at the wrong place. Now instead of sending them to a completely different location, we just send them to the other court. That has been the main thing. Everything is just localized in a central location.”
Starkville Parks and Recreation did make another change that Runnels is a big fan of and that is online registration. This new form of sign-ups was put into place during the 2012 season and Runnels says it has allowed the staff to reach a whole new group of people who were unable to come by the Sportsplex to register.
Lastly, the Starkville Parks and Recreation is re-introducing the requirement of a skills assessment for every child that registers. This short assessment is nothing new for those who are familiar with SAY, but this will be the first year Starkville Parks and Recreation will be implementing it.
Runnels says the assessment is nothing major and will consist of a 90-foot timed sprint, 90-foot timed dribbled between cones and a 90-foot timed straight away dribble. Results from the skills test will be used to examine a child’s skill level and to assist with team assignments.
Once registration is complete, Runnels and her staff will begin the long process of assigning teams that include between seven and nine players.
For participants in 2nd to 5th grade, the Starkville Parks and Recreation staff will assign them to teams based on results of the skills assessment, age, child’s height and weight and the child’s years of experience.
Assignment for children in 6th through 9th grades is slightly different. They are no longer assigned by the staff, but rather drafted by team coaches.
“Our system is no different than any other draft,” said Runnels. “Each coach draws a number and then they go through in order and pick players.”
Once team assignments are complete it is time for Runnels and her staff’s next task and that is setting up games. Last year there were 380 participants on 50 teams and the staff is expecting the numbers to remain the same this season.
“Team numbers usually range between 48-50 and each team has eight regular season games, so we have about 200 or so games to schedule,” Runnels said. “Due to the large number of games and the fact that we only have two playing surfaces, we have games Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday or basically every day but church days from mid-January to March.”
With the large number of participants and games, Runnels and the Starkville Parks and Recreation staff want to make sure everyone knows that youth basketball is not just for children. There are a number of ways for the community to get involved from volunteering as a coach to serving as an official there is something for everyone.
If someone wants to get involved, Runnels says they simply need to come talk to her and she will get them the information they need. There will also be an interest meeting for those “who want to help but don’t know how” on Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Sportsplex board room. At this time, the staff will go over the rules and information about the league, which Runnels says will either “scare them off or interest them.”
In the past, Runnels says they have located the majority of coaches through registration forms asking parents in they are interested, but this year they are implementing a new method and are already seeing great response.
“This year we have utilized online resources to locate coaches,” Runnels said. “In particular, reaching out to MSU students who are sport pedagogy or coaching majors. Coaching for us gives them the opportunity to get some volunteer hours in and we have actually seen some very good responses from these methods.”
Another way for the community to get involved with youth basketball is through sponsorship of a team. Sponsorship is open to any local business for the cost of $175 and can be obtained through contacting Runnels or Starkville Parks and Recreation.
This will be the third year for Starkville Parks and Recreation to offer youth basketball and Runnels says the response has grown each year and does not show any signs of stopping.
“Recreation is one thing parents still want their kids to be involved with,” Runnels said. “As we grow as a town, as high school teams get better and as our University gets better, the interest level increases because kids are saying 'that could be fun let’s go see what I can do.' That is primarily what I look to help us keep growing.”
The last day to register onsite and participate in the skills assessment is Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m., at the Sportsplex. Online registration will be open until Dec. 14th. For more information on youth basketball or any programs offered by Starkville Parks and Recreation, one can visit www.starkvilleparks.com .