Youth clubs hoop it up


The Western Howard County Youth Basketball Association is the perfect prototype for the way the sport has grown in the county.

The league had about 2,000 players (boys and girls) in its age groups -- from recreation to travel teams -- two years ago, but saw 2,400 sign up this winter.

Many youth basketball leaders in the county feel that as the county continues to grow, so does the popularity of the game.

Alphabetically, not including several small, independently run travel-team programs, here is a look at the local basketball scene:

Catholic Youth Organization: The two-year-old gymnasium at Ellicott City's Resurrection School -- with the largest youth basketball program of five Catholic schools in Howard County -- has been a big reason for the program there doubling over the past two years.

Frank Curley, commissioner of Resurrection basketball, said the program went from 135 players two years ago to 175 last year and now stands at 225 spread among 29 teams.

The teams play travel and recreation ball and go to other parishes within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Trinity, both in Ellicott City, Woodmont Academy in Woodstock and St. Louis in Clarksville also run CYO programs.

"It's growing like crazy," Curley said of county CYO league, which he estimated has about 800 players.

Columbia Basketball Association: Herb Nicholls handles the equipment and helps run the program, which, unlike other county programs, is losing enrollment.

Nicholls said that is mainly because "central Columbia is aging a little bit, and the kids have grown."

CBA rec-level and travel teams will total about 600 youngsters this year -- down from nearly 1,000 a year ago.

The club has a new feature, a Web site: www.columbia

"We're trying to catch up to the 21st century," Nicholls said.

Elkridge Youth Organization: This group might have the fastest growth rate, short term, of any in Howard County.

Two seasons ago, EYO teams totaled about 270 players; last winter, the figure grew to 540, and this season, the total is 645. Commissioner Brian Wilson said children from kindergarten through 12th grade participate in 11 leagues.

The kindergarten and first-grade girls and boys play in a league together. After that, there are recreation and travel programs for both.

"We use the Howard County school facilities, which are at a premium," Wilson said. "We had to cut off registration. We ran out of facilities before we ran out of kids."

Howard County Youth Program: Bernie Dennison, who has been with the program for 23 years and was commissioner once before, returns.

This Ellicott City-based organization has grown to about 2,000 players, up from about 1,800 last winter.

There are recreational and travel teams and programs for boys and girls ages 6 to 18, and HCYP will have games and practices in the same gyms as last year.

HCYP is moving weekday practices from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m., which it has done before. "We [did that] to gain the extra hour for people," Dennison said.

Savage Boys and Girls Club: The club's basketball program grew by about 20 percent this year, with about 600 children signing up for boys and girls programs.

Jamie Davis takes over as basketball commissioner, and club President Tom Lawler said leaders worked hard at getting more practice time on the schedule after parents repeatedly asked for it last winter.

"We had a lot of requests last year that just playing games doesn't teach the children basketball," Lawler said. "So we're trying to do more practices."

Lawler said the league moved up the registration, talent evaluation and draft to get more preseason practices in.

Western Howard County Youth Basketball Association: The 2,400 children playing this winter are an increase of 200 over last season. There is a waiting list for two reasons, said Commissioner Pete Geoghan: School gyms are being used to the maximum, and there is a lack of volunteers.

"There's unprecedented growth [here], and more families keep coming in," he said.

Boys make up about 70 percent of the leagues, which have divisions for children ages 6 to 17.

Geoghan said the 14-17 boys program is the best known and most popular -- with more than 220 players.

Overall, the western Howard County group has mostly rec-level teams, but it will field travel teams at each age level from 9 to 13 for boys and girls.

One change this year involves the size of the basketball. Geoghan said the program is following what the national Amateur Athletic Union is doing for boys nationwide, using a smaller basketball in younger divisions.

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