It may be summertime in Carroll County, but that doesn't hold some high school basketball players athletes back from keeping their skills in check.
Plus, they're having fun too.
During a brief halftime period Monday evening at the Steve Johnson Memorial Summer League, Liberty assistant coach Brent Stewart drew up strategies for his players on a board. As he talked, the girls listened, occasionally wiping their brows between sips of water to cool down from the sweltering heat inside Liberty High School's gymnasium.
"Basketball is tough, especially with girls in my opinion," Stewart said. "For most of the good girls players, it's their second or third sport so they're not doing anything in the offseason to generally get better. Most are soccer or lacrosse players and it's even more important to keep the girls engaged because it might be the only time they touch a basketball until the season.
"That's why it was important from Steven's eyes and Barry [Green] took the reins for the girls side and now the teams have been building."
Johnson, Liberty's longtime varsity boys basketball coach, died in 2011, but his passion for basketball led to the formation of summer leagues that quickly flourished in Carroll. Liberty changed the name of the annual summer league to the Steve Johnson Memorial Summer League, a decision made by the Liberty Basketball Club.
This marks Stewart's fourth year helping coach the girls summer league alongside Lions varsity coach and league commissioner Barry Green.
(Green is away this week on vacation, so Stewart and Kelly Storr are taking over Liberty's team while he's gone.)
This year's collection of girls teams includes six from Carroll, with the exception of Manchester Valley, and a variety of Howard County teams in Centennial, Mount Hebron, River Hill, Howard, and Marriotts Ridge.
The league has proved a positive factor in giving athletes a chance to practice their footwork and ball-handling skills in the offseason. Jess Cronin, an incoming senior forward for the Lions, said she has been participating since she started her freshman year three years ago.
"For me, it's a chance to touch the ball," Cronin said. "You get to meet the incoming people and blend with your team more, but really touching the ball over the summer."
She'll return to the Lions' lineup in the winter but said she enjoys the stress free atmosphere of the summer league. As long as she's got a ball in her hand, she's content.
The Lions will be without recent graduates top threats Maddee Farley and Olivia Thompson this winter, but Stewart said each new season gives the coaches a chance to see who returns and how they can help them improve.
"On the girls' side, and at all ages, you always need to get your skills better," Stewart said. "Everybody, including myself, it's fun to play and measure those skills each week, whatever it is and the fun way to do that is to play.
"When I was growing up, that's all you had was summer leagues and you didn't necessarily have practices. Coaches tried to coordinate open gyms during the day and games to try and incorporate what you learned there as well. The final piece is to just keep playing."
The summer league has a few weeks remaining, with varsity games played on Mondays and junior varsity contests (the boys league has its games Tuesdays and Thursdays). Playoff games begin in August.
Incoming ninth graders to rising seniors are eligible to participate in the league. And for those entering high school, they're getting the experience necessary to prepare for potential varsity contention on their respective school's team.
Cronin said she's been applying some of the skills she took away from the winter to the summer league to stay fresh.
"Games are always different, the mentality, the practices are," Cronin said. "You never really get to feel a basketball unless you're playing it."