Over 350 area youngsters are getting in some exercise and learning new skills through the City of Escalon’s recreational basketball program.
On Saturdays, the old gym on the campus of Escalon High School has come alive this winter, with the kindergarten-first grade and the second-third grade teams utilizing the courts. Pre-K games are hosted in the old gym on Tuesdays and students in fourth through sixth grades meet on Saturdays at El Portal Middle School.
“Basketball is short; it’s only six weeks,” Escalon Deputy City Clerk Courtney Mogg noted. “We have 367 kids total.”
There are a number of sponsors for the various teams, noted by the name on the back of the team T-shirts the kids wear during their games.
Each week features a chance for youngsters to work on some skill drills, followed by a game that includes two halves and a brief halftime break.
With multiple teams, the games are staggered throughout the day in the gyms, with a number of spectators also filling the bleachers to cheer on and support the squads.
Several high school basketball players have been able to serve as referees while volunteer coaches, primarily parents of players, have joined in to make sure the program continues to operate smoothly.
Mogg reported that there are nine teams in the Pre-K division for three- and four-year-olds; a dozen teams in the K-1 division for five- and six-year-olds. The second and third grade division, for seven- and eight-year-olds, features 10 teams and the oldest division, the fourth through sixth grade group, nine- to 11-year-olds, has a dozen teams this year.
Saturday action, Jan. 21, saw players enjoying the competition and plenty of shots falling through the hoops. Each team also has enough players so there are substitutes, and all players have the opportunity get in to the game. There is some dribbling, lots of passing and a fair amount of steals, and coaches are constantly offering guidance and encouragement as players race up and down the court. There are no ‘traveling’ calls, as some of the players prefer to carry the ball rather than dribble it, but participants do learn some of the basics of the game throughout the six-week program. The goal is really two-fold: introduce them to the rules of the game and let them have fun playing it.
One spectator noted that it was great to see kids being active on a Saturday morning as opposed to sitting at home watching TV or glued to a tablet, and he was encouraged by the number of participants in the youth hoops program.
Among the referees on hand in the old gym on Saturday was EHS senior Zack Valencia, currently a varsity basketball player for the Cougars, who said he remembers taking part in the youth hoops clinics and games himself.
“Like it was yesterday,” Valencia said. “This is where it all started.”