The Great Experiment with the city of Davis’ junior basketball program has ended, and the youth league now returns to the capable direction of city of Davis program coordinator Lori Conrad.
The Community Services Department, dealing with ongoing personnel cutbacks, farmed out the Davis recreational hoops program, which serves almost 400 boys and girls in third grade through junior high. A private contractor gave it its best shot this winter, but participants found out what I’ve known for almost three decades — nobody runs things with more efficiency and love than Conrad.
“What initially happened with the junior basketball program, and some of our youth sports programs, is that the city has gone through a number of staffing cuts,” Community Services Superintendent Samantha Wallace told me this week.
“Halfway through (the 2013 season), we were looking at where the city is in a couple of years, so we were looking at some programs that one person has been doing for a very long period of time,” Wallace explains, adding: “We know folks like Lori won’t be here for another 10 to 15 years.”
In planning for the future, Conrad’s responsibility changed and rec basketball was reassigned to another coordinator. However, that coordinator left during the program sign-up period, and Conrad’s new plate already was overflowing.
Wallace said the private contractor came highly recommended and she knew the company by reputation. The city took a shot.
While the program was not poorly run, there were hiccups. Wallace discovered there’s nothing like home cooking, especially when Conrad’s the chef.
“It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” Wallace continued. “This type of program, with the amount of kids involved — and that we don’t have gym space available, that we’re outdoors (and working around) the weather. … There are just a lot pieces.”
One of those elements that make recreational leagues so much fun is parent involvement. Twenty-five years ago, there were lots of volunteers involved — parents who were being introduced to sports coaching.
These days, not so much.
Wallace and Conrad are busy trying to get the word out about the joy of being around one’s kid, teaching him/her and friends a new sport. At this level, done right, there is no pressure. The sport still teems with sportsmanship.
Wallace says the city is launching an online survey of parents of this year’s participants, weighing the interest in having more volunteers and asking what needs improvement after The Great Experiment.
Conrad understands, though, that making the time to coach can be difficult — and the city has a narrow alley it navigates each winter.
“We’re very restricted on what we can offer, where and when,” Conrad explains. “There are a lot of parents who love (that practice is) right after school, on site, because they don’t have to drive their kids all over town. The parents sign up for the times and days they want their kids to practice.
“The parents have difficulty, if they work a regular 9-to-5 job,” she says of the opportunities to coach. “They feel like they’re stuck: ‘How can we volunteer?’ It gets dark at 5 or 5:30. That’s probably the biggest hindrance to parent volunteers.”
At this point, it must be noted I have a bias in all this …
For 25 years or so, I’ve volunteered as a coach.
It has been joyous. Regardless of record, year after year, our teams lead the league in pizza parties as well as trips to UC Davis and Blue Devil basketball games and practices.
The first few years, my own children were playing. But I knew even then that the experience had me at “hello.”
If parents have the chance to get involved with recreation basketball — especially since it’s returned home, under the city staff’s supervision — they should do that carpe diem thing.
One byproduct of getting more volunteers is that the cost per participant will be kept down.
Another neat thing is that if more folks volunteer to coach, there are still plenty of funded jobs for high school and college students. Having two trained officials and diligent scorekeepers adds to the atmosphere, and if there are plenty of paid spots for youthful coaches, what a great introduction to real-world responsibility.
Conrad has had the magic touch selecting these “employees.”
“If parents are reluctant to be the coach,” Conrad mentioned, “they can help (as assistants) so they can learn and maybe coach their team the following season. We have no problem with parents helping that way … that would be great.”
Yep, for everybody.
While I Have You Here: It was my pleasure to be involved with the César Chávez Elementary School third-/fourth-grade girls team, the Ice Cold Chili Peppers, this season. I’ve never written about my past teams, but the nine kids on this full-of-hustle team were a delight — and they kept looking at this column for some hint of their 7-1 season.
We did some fun stuff this winter — including heading out to a UCD women’s basketball practice and a Thursday night game (thanks to Aggie coach Jennifer Gross). Pizza was terrific at our year-end outing, and I learned so much from Una, Kate, May, Kalea, Paige, Kit-Kat, Becca, Grace and Nithmi.
Seriously, if you get the chance, get involved in this great city league.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.