The Volunteers Behind The Scenes Of Newtown Youth Basketball
Correction: This article has been corrected. Okan Akbas is the correct name of the coach. Logan Akbas is his son.
Throughout the winter, girls and boys competed on the youth basketball hardwood in Newtown Recreation and travel league play.
Behind all of the smiles that came with baskets scored and friendships made was a lot of devotion to make this learning, fun-filled, and competitive atmosphere for rising athletes possible.
Dedicated volunteers — from the coaches on up through the grade-divided league directors and the president — worked hard help ensure things unfolded as smoothly and inexpensively as possible.
“We meet at the beginning of the season to go over the rules and regulations, expectations, and try to make it a good experience for the kids,” Newtown Youth Basketball Association President Top Martinez said of the board’s tip-off to each campaign while watching championship games unfold at Reed School on March 7.
Following player sign-ups, it all starts with draft at the start of each campaign.
“We try to even out the teams,” Mr Martinez said.
Games are scheduled, and referees, scorekeepers, and clock operators are hired, and then the games begin.
The season is quite a process, with roughly 800 players in the league between the in-house and travel programs.
There is the combined girls’ and boys’ Biddy League for the youngest players, and leagues for grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, as well as Senior League for high school students — each with separate girls’ and boys’ squads.
The 18-person board includes vice presidents of travel and the in-house program, an advisor, referee scheduler, and others.
“The program wouldn’t run without volunteers. It’s nice to see so many people help and want to be a part of it,” Referee Scheduler Laura Roche said.
Ms Roche coordinates the schedule for the fifth through eighth grade games, and Suzanne Hurley does the same for the first through fourth grade squad. The program has a pool of 78 high school students who serve as referees and scorekeepers or game clock operators. It is a big number, but it’s necessary given how busy high school students are, said Ms Roche, adding that, on average, they typically work every other weekend. Refs, scorekeepers, and clock operators go through a training program at the beginning of the season and are all paid for each game they work.
For all grades up to the high school Senior League, the young referees manage the games alongside an adult on-court official. “It’s like a mentor program,” Ms Roche said.
Senior League games have two adult refs. The youngest grades have the least experienced high school refs, and as students gain skills, they move up throughout the grade divisions.
“I like working with the kids. I like watching them grow throughout the program. For a lot of them, it’s their first job ever. You see them mature,” added Ms Roche, who has helped with the program for five years and, like pretty much all volunteers, has or had children or grandchildren in the program.
Mr Martinez has been in his role for a handful of years and also said the best part of the process is seeing the players grow throughout the years. The group of athletes that were in the program in Mr Martinez’s first year, in fact, are all in high school now.
In addition to weekly hour-long team practices, two-hour skills sessions are offered for players who would like more time honing their abilities. A ten-game season is held with built-in off-days for makeups necessitated by the snow.
“Every player gets to play equal time. That’s one of the things that’s great about the rec (in-house) league,” said Jon Da Silva, league director for the fifth and sixth grade boys, who coaches one of ten teams in the age group.
At the travel level, playing time is not equal, as the games are more competitive. But that is certainly not to say the rec games are not intense, hard-fought battles. It is just that skill set does not dictate playing time.
Volunteering Beyond The Courts
Between the games and practices is a lot of paperwork and computer work for league directors. This includes communication with parents, including working out schedules — sometimes via player trades at the beginning of the season — to accommodate athletes who play multiple sports, for example.
Each in-house division has a director who coordinates the draft, recruits and assigns coaches, tackles issues that arise during the season, and handles administrative functions such as distributing schedules and equipment. League volunteers order uniforms, pay referees, and rent gymnasiums, as well as organize fundraisers to offset expenses or assist families with hardships, Mr Martinez said.
“You know it’s going to be work. You do it for the kids,” Mr Da Silva said. “We do our best to obviously make all the kids and parents feel happy.”
“We ensure everything goes smoothly. You’re the point person. That’s the bottom line,” said Okan Akbas, who splits seventh/eighth grade league director duties with Greg Fodor.
Mr Akbas said that having a job that allows one to be at a computer throughout much of the day in order to see e-mails is necessary for this specific volunteer role.
“I felt I could do a good job — especially the communications. The communication is the key. It’s necessary to be able to respond in a timely fashion,” Mr Akbas said.
Like Mr Da Silva, Mr Akbas and Mr Fodor both coach one of their division’s teams. The coaching commitment can require more than the time on the court.
“It depends on how well-prepared you want to be,” said Mr Akbas, adding that he likes to implement drills he finds online into practices.
“My objective is to make sure they get better from the beginning of the season until the end of the season. You’ve got to keep it fun, too. You can’t do the same thing every practice,” Mr Akbas said.
League directors give a lot of their time on the weekends. They are on hand for all of their age group’s games on given days, making for three hour-plus long mornings/afternoons at gymnasiums around town.
“You’re giving back to the community,” Mr Fodor said.
“It’s priceless. You get to know these kids; you get to know the parents. By the end of the season, they’re like family,” Mr Da Silva added.