VIDEO & STORY -- Smyrna Police Athletic League Basketball participation bounces higher and higher

While the college basketball tournaments are in full swing, Smyrna’s version of March Madness also features nail-biting finishes, buzzer beaters and overtime anxiety.

The John Bassett Moore Intermediate School gymnasium has been filled with Smyrna Police Athletic League Basketball games and fans every Saturday since January, finishing March 24 with the championship games.

And league participation keeps climbing, up to 220 players this year, compared to about 180 last year and about 150 in 2016, according to coordinators Warren May and his daughter Trina May.

Trina said the program is moving in a positive direction and word of mouth is getting around.

“When things run smoothly and everyone’s excited, they tell their friends. We had a lot of new kids this year. The success of the program is leading to more players,” she said.

The coordinators are also getting the word out.

“We have a Smyrna PAL Facebook page. We send letters through the schools, and we have a section on the Smyrna Police Department’s website,” said Trina.

Warren May said in addition to the positive experiences players are having, the growth of the Smyrna-Clayton area is contributing to the growth of the PAL Basketball program.

“I’ve been involved with PAL Basketball for about 20 years, and this is the most kids I’ve seen in the program,” he said.

This year’s league has 22 teams in four age groups: 8 and 9, 10 and 11, 12 and 13, and 14-16.

Boys and girls play together in all age groups because about the only part of the PAL program that’s declined is the number of girls participating.

“We decided to have co-ed teams because we weren’t able to get enough girls for more than two teams in the different age groups,” said Warren. “Last year we only had two teams in one girls age group and so they had to play each other every week.”

He said co-ed teams are working well this year, but if more girls register next year, PAL could offer girls teams again.

SKILLS AND SPORTSMANSHIP

Warren and Trina said the PAL program emphasizes basketball skills and sportsmanship.

“It’s definitely a fundamentals-based program,” said Warren. “We also stress that it’s not just about winning. Hopefully you have fun and make friends. It’s competitive and everybody wants to win, but we tell players you win some and you lose some, but at the end of the game, you shake hands and leave as friends.”

Tiana Henry, whose son plays Smyrna PAL Basketball, said she’s seen the benefits of the weekly practices and games.

“He’s learning how to be a good sport, how to win and lose, important social skills,” she said. “He’s also building his basketball skills. I can see him getting better.”

Dylan DeMoe, an 11-year-old player, said he joined the PAL program for several reasons.

“When I play, it makes me feel happy because I’m trying to do my best for our team,” DeMoe said. “I just like playing basketball – running, passing and shooting – it’s really fun.”

But it’s not just the players who benefit.

Warren said coaching and helping to lead the PAL program have been positive experiences for him.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, it’s really been rewarding to see kids who come in at 8 years old and then you watch them develop into middle school and high school players,” he said.

He sees players he coached who still remember him now that they’re in their 20s.

“I think we’re helping in some way to give kids an opportunity, to show them that we care about them and we hope they remember to give back,” said Warren. “I’ve been glad to be able to give back to the community where I was born and raised.”

COACHES NEEDED

Warren and Trina said more volunteers are needed as coaches, and the time commitment is probably less than a lot of people think.

“It’s about one hour on Saturday and practice one night a week for an hour from January through the end of March,” said Warren.

The coordinators said in addition to a written set of rules for basketball and PAL, coaches also receive support. During practices, each team gets half the court, so there are other coaches there to answer questions a new coach might have. During the games, even more coaches are at the school along with the coordinators and referees to guide new coaches.

For information on becoming a PAL coach, call (302) 233-2358 or see the Smyrna PAL Basketball Facebook page.