Getting them started early, the Escalon Recreation Department offers a youth basketball program for those in pre-K through first grade. The young hoop enthusiasts get to work on dribbling and passing drills and also spend time playing games, with the emphasis on sportsmanship.
“I think it helps them with teamwork and working together,” said volunteer coach Kristen Hoover, as her team got ready for its Saturday morning match up. “It helps them to get out and do something extracurricular; this is my first time coaching and it’s fun ... we’re in this together.”
Tuesday night features 10 teams of pre-kindergarten students, with their practices and games in the old gym. The Saturday morning schedule includes three different sessions, 8:15 a.m., 9:15 a.m. and 10:15 a.m., with 20 teams total, covering both kindergarten and first graders. After their drills, the teams match up for games with a running clock, timed seven-and-a-half minute halves with a break in between.
There are no scores kept and while many of the youngsters haven’t quite mastered the art of dribbling the ball down the court, the action is fast and furious. Several of the shots sent up by players this past Saturday found the mark, swishing through the net, eliciting cheers from players on the court and family and friends in the stands.
“This is her first year,” dad Joe Jimenez said of his daughter Sofia, a six-year-old first grade student at Dent Elementary. “We want to make sure she enjoys it.”
He took the opportunity during the halftime break to offer her a little instruction and Sofia got back in the game, hustling down the court on defense and working to get some shots on offense.
“It gives them social interaction with kids outside the school,” Jimenez added. “There’s camaraderie and teamwork, it gives them some structure.”
Parents, grandparents, siblings, all those in the stands also seemed to be enjoying the chance to cheer on their favorite young athletes.
Escalon Recreation Assistant Denise Schulz said there are more than 115 participants this year, one of the largest groups they have had. It also is now serving as a ‘feeder program’ for the annual Cub Basketball program put on for older kids by coaches and players of the Escalon High School boys and girls basketball programs.
“They start with second grade,” Schulz noted of Cub Basketball. “This is fun for the younger kids, it gives them a start. There are some with amazing skill levels and some are more aggressive than others.”
That’s why there is as much emphasis on sportsmanship as scoring, keeping it enjoyable for all young players.
“They’re so much fun to watch,” Schulz said.