There are few times in sports greater than NCAA March Madness. But the inspiration of the men's and women's college basketball tournaments — with their single-elimination format and inevitable Cinderella versus Goliath matchups — permeates far beyond the basketball court.
We at MYAS strive to give young basketball players throughout our state their own taste of March Madness by making games and tournaments accessible to all.
Our Rising Stars High School Basketball League (RSHSBL) has been a success, partnering with the YMCA of the North in providing gym space (practices and games) for teams of boys in grades 9-12 who did not make their high school basketball team. Last year, we had 108 Rising Stars individual participants, and this year we have 210. When you include the intact teams that are competing in the RSHSBL this year, we have 375 kids with a place to play ball. Besides the gym space, the Y is also providing weekly memberships to the participants as part of their registration, and legendary coach Jim McDonald and other “master dev coaches” are helping to develop and train the volunteer coaches and provide insight and guidance for their teams. This league has been wonderful because a lot of the kids have played through their youth years, and it's a way to keep their passion for the game alive. As our slogan states, "There’s always a place to play!"
We are always thinking of ways to make this special for the high school student athletes, so we have announcers set for the upcoming league championship games, the National Anthem will be played, and a three-person officiating crew is on each game. There are also "Player of the Week" awards based on voting, and we have freshman, sophomore, and upperclassmen divisions. And, of course, we’ll have an All-Star game!
Our 34th annual MYAS Grade State Basketball Championships are just around the corner. It's crazy to think that we started with 22 teams in 1991 and as of January 31, our girls’ divisions are set with 645 total teams (an all-time high). Registration deadlines for boys 3rd-6th and 7th-8th grade teams are the first two Fridays in February.
The volume of teams and the participation levels for the 3rd to 8th graders are strong, and I'm proud of the efforts of all member associations, organization leaders around the state, and our ability to facilitate the Minnesota Youth Basketball Alliance. We've gotten more Minnesota representation from greater Minnesota, so it is as close to a true state event as any previous year. We have also worked collectively to make the matchups more competitive, with 82% of the games in last year's tournament featuring 15-point or lower scoring margins. Last year, we had 103 divisions, which meant that each grade had several different tiers, and we have a seeding process that factors in several variables, including seeding done by the coaches. We also have a Task Force, made up of members of the MYBA Board of Advisors, who assist in ensuring the process is smooth and fair.
There's so much to be excited about, but I do have a concern, and I'd love to get some feedback on how to address it.
Within our state, over the course of the last three decades, basketball has become tournament-centric because most associations host tournaments as fundraising mechanisms for their organization. As a result, there are numerous tournaments every weekend from the beginning of November to the end of February. The events are wonderful fundraising mechanisms for the basketball associations running them, and reciprocity is established between neighboring associations.
The negative part is that competing in so many games has an impact on the development of the youth athletes who are participating – especially those in the younger grades.
When we started MYAS, there was the Boys Traveling Basketball League and the Girls Metro Basketball League, which limited the number of games while providing opportunities during the week to practice. I realize that's difficult sometimes due to lack of court space within many communities. But overall, league play allows for more development and training when you lessen the number of games being played.
So, what are you noticing in your community association?
What do you think are some possible solutions?
I would love to hear your ideas!