Drop into the Elkins/Randolph County Family YMCA on Saturday and you will find it bustling with activity as boys and girls ages 9 to 12 and their fans gather for Jerry West Basketball games.
The program teaches participants the fundamentals of basketball while promoting the value of participation, fair play, good sportsmanship and proper attitude.
Jerry West Basketball League Organizer Mike Jackson has been involved in the program on and off since he was 16, and he's especially excited about the program this year.
TEAMWORK — Jara Reams returns a high-five from teammate Tyler Armstrong. (Photo by Beth Christian Broschart for The Inter-Mountain)
IN THE HUDDLE — Above, J.W. Haden, Aaron’s Lucky Dog Coach, helps fine tune techniques with players Dominick Hussion, Tyler Armstrong, Trevor Haden, Cory Gillespie and Jara Reams. (Photo by Beth Christian Broschart for The Inter-Mountain)
"We have nine teams this year and our goal is to have 16 or more teams next year, helping more kids get play time and work on the fundamentals and techniques of basketball," Jackson said. "One of the things that sets Jerry West League teams apart from other teams is that we are competitive teams, and our coaches strive to develop and enhance players' knowledge and skills playing basketball."
According to Jackson, coaches are asked to try to give each team member play time in every game. He says this allows them to see what it's like on the court before they make the decision to take the next step and join a school team.
Elkins Middle School Principal Rich Carr said he enjoys seeing the teamwork shared among the players that prepares them for their future.
"I am very pleased with the level of excitement, coaching and learning I am seeing here," said Carr, who spends his Saturdays volunteering as a referee. "The kids are all getting to play and the coaches are using this time to teach as well."
As an added bonus, Carr said he thinks the kids enjoy seeing him out supporting their out-of-school activities.
J.W. Haden of Elkins has been a volunteer YMCA coach for 12 years. He says the program is as rewarding as it is fun.
"I enjoy helping the kids learn and have fun," Haden said. "Coaching and encouraging these players to learn and develop their skills is what matters to me."
Assistant coach Jay Gillespie played basketball for the Elkins Tigers in the early 1980s. These days he's turning his sights toward helping the kids and he says he enjoys watching them grow.
"The YMCA Jerry West program is very organized, and communications are open between the coaches, players, parents and staff," said Gillespie, who's served as a volunteer for four years. "The program is growing, and it is great to see more kids joining up and working to become better ballplayers."
Elkins Middle School sixth-grader Jara Reams said she has learned a lot by playing in the league for two years.
"I would encourage other kids to join a team," Reams said. "I like learning how to play better from my coaches and I like getting to play in the games.
"All of my teammates are very nice to me, and we support and encourage one another," she said. "It's lots of fun and I scored 6 points in today's game."
When asked what the community can look for in the future with the Jerry West Basketball League, Jackson explained that he is working with sponsors to add something new.
"We are working to begin televising the Jerry West Basketball games," Jackson said. "Kids all love to see themselves on television, and friends and relatives who cannot get to the games at the YMCA would be able to view the games.
"We are also going to invite the local church basketball teams to join Jerry West Basketball for the 2011-2012 season," Jackson said. "We are excited to see this tradition reinstated from years past."
Tournaments for Jerry West Basketball Leagues will begin the weekend of Feb. 26 and will be single elimination with a consolation. A banquet and lock-in for the players will follow.
Jackson expressed his appreciation for all of the volunteers including coaches, referees, parents, players, helpers and sponsors.
"We are very fortunate to have such great people in our community who support the Jerry West Basketball program," Jackson said.
Anyone who has questions about the Jerry West Basketball program may call the Elkins/Randolph County Family YMCA at 304-636-4515.
"No child is ever turned away because they cannot afford to pay," Jackson said.