By DANNY P. SMITH
The Starkville Parks and Recreation Department is taking a more active role this season with the Starkville Area Youth Basketball program.
Starkville Parks and Recreation will sponsor and host the 2011 SAY Basketball season at the Starkville Sportsplex.
Sammy Willcutt, the Director of Athletics at SPRD, anticipates what the department can do for SAY and thanks all of those who made it what it has become.
"The Starkville Parks and Recreation Department would like to thank the Starkville Optimist Club, along with hundreds of volunteers that have made SAY Basketball a reality for over 30 years," Willcutt said in a statement. "We are very excited about the opportunity to continue this historic program and anticipate many great seasons at the Sportsplex."
According to Earl Thomas, The Optimist Club started SAY Basketball and submitted it as a community project. SAY grew from that point and gained international recognition.
"SAY has its own board and one of the requirements was it would always have a member of the Optimist Club on the board," Thomas said. "Ron Mitchell worked with it for about 30 years and he is our official representative. We made him a lifetime honorary member."
Mitchell, who has actually been involved in SAY for 32 of the 33 years it has been in existence, said he has been a referee in SAY, been on the board of directors, been the president and the past three years has coached his grandson.
"I just knew that every October, it was time to start back," Mitchell said. "When you see the kids having fun and enjoying everything, it's worth it."
Mitchell, who doesn't know at this time what if any role he will have with SAY, said the transition to the SPRD has gone well, mainly through the efforts of Sheila Coleman.
"She's helped us for several years and she got the job over at parks and rec," Mitchell said. "I think it's going to be as smooth as it can be.
"I was up there (Thursday) helping with some computer stuff and Sammy was asking me, 'you are going to be around, right?' I don't know. I will probably referee a little bit, but I don't know how much hands on stuff I'll be involved with because it does take a lot of work by keeping up with the schedules and putting teams together. We also have the website we've had for years."
Mitchell listed names of those who have been instrumental to SAY Basketball's cause over the years. Rudy Rogers, Kirk Arnett, Norman Pollard, Jim McMinn, Earl Thomas, Icy Hendrix, David Josey, Norvel Burkett and James Smith were some of the original Optimist Club members that started SAY Basketball, while Clark Roman, Eddie Keith, Cherie Salter, Kerry Salter, Zeb Rice, Steve Phillips, Sheila Coleman, Mitzi Alpe, Cynthia Milons, Kenneth Randle, Ed Davis, Milo Crabtree, Russ Clanton, Bill Malone, Walter Williams, Bobby Williams, Larnzy Carpenter and John Thomas were valuable volunteers.
"They were the ones who helped me the most over the 32 years I worked with basketball," Mitchell said.
Thomas said The Optimist doesn't own the rights to SAY Basketball, but have supported it for many years.
"We don't possess them, but we do feel ownership because we developed it," Thomas said. "I want to see it continue and I don't see any reason why it couldn't."
The final registration for the next SAY Basketball season that begins the first week of January 2011 is Saturday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at the Sportsplex. The season ends the first week of March.
Willcutt knows the continued support of the community will help SAY Basketball as it moves forward.
"Without volunteers and financial support from sponsorships and organizations like the Optimist Club, the league would not be possible," Willcutt said. "Because of community involvement, anywhere from 300 to 500 boys and girls enjoy a great experience annually."
The age range to participate is from 8-15 years and the grade range is 3rd through 9th. The registration fee is $45 per participant and the sponsorship fee is $150 per team.
For anyone interested in sponsoring a team or assist in any other way, contact Willcutt or Sheila Coleman at Starkville Parks and Recreation at 662-323-2294.