Recreation Summer Basketball Leagues Teach Skills, Build Community for Hundreds of Young Athletes
This summer, more than 380 young people joined the Department of Human Service Programs’ Recreation staff and coaches on basketball courts throughout Cambridge. As participants in the five Recreation Summer Basketball Leagues, athletes ages 8 – 19 practiced layups, perfected free throws, and competed in weekly games, culminating in league championships held in August. But for players, coaches, and staff, the leagues offer more than skill-building and competition; they foster lasting relationships and build community.
“Our Leagues are a community magnet that bring longtime friends and families together, while at the same time attracting people new to our program or to Cambridge,” says Vlad Pierre, Recreation Programs and Facility Coordinator. “In many cases, leaders and coaches have known the program and each other since they were 10 years old [and playing in the leagues]. It sets a tone of community for the next level of mentors, coaches and players.”
Recreation staff work closely with staff from the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) to run the leagues. Kessen Green, Director of Outreach and Community Programs for CPD, partners with Recreation to recruit Cambridge athletes every year, in addition to coaching the co-ed Davonte Neal Instructional League, open to 8-11-year-olds. CPD officers also coach teams and support players from the sideline during scrimmages and games.
“These leagues are the start to a community that will always be there, as kids face their transition into middle school, high school, adulthood, and generational participation,” says Green. “Before the start of each season, we ask ourselves ‘how do we motivate kids to participate? How do we create an impact that kids are excited to be a part of and continue to come back to?’”
For the Summer 2022 season, this approach led to the creation of the U11 Medina Dixon Instructional League. Named after CRLS Women’s Basketball legend and US Women’s Basketball Team gold medalist Medina Dixon, it’s the first league exclusively for young athletes who identify as female and was formed in response to the growing interest from the community to offer more athletic opportunities for girls.
In addition to the Medina Dixon and Davonte Neal Instructional Leagues, Recreation Summer Basketball offers the co-ed Sharif Mustafa Instructional League for 9-13-year-olds, Fast Break League for boys ages 12-14 and the Eurie Stamps Sr. League for boys ages 15-19. Many athletes start as elementary schoolers in an instructional league and grow with the program until they graduate high school.
“Our priority is to keep kids engaged and involved, and to provide space for all Cambridge youth to connect with the experience – even kids who aren’t interested in playing ball,” says Pierre. “This includes families as well. Parents often make connections with one another during practices and games, and we make sure that staff and coaches are accessible to answer questions and connect them with other programs.”
“The focus of our basketball leagues is to support young athletes on a holistic level,” says Adam Corbeil, Director of Cambridge Recreation. “In addition to basketball skills, players learn about health and wellness, connect with coaches and staff, gain leadership skills, and form important friendships.”
This commitment extends to Recreation’s Cambridge Pride basketball league, a middle school league that runs from November – March each year. “When the league begins, we ask our athletes: what else
are you involved in after school during the week?” says Pierre. “We want to learn their other interests to connect them to other programs and fill their schedule with activities that motivate them. Basketball is a foundation for lowering barriers to other experiences for our athletes.”
In addition to Summer Basketball Leagues and Cambridge Pride Recreation staff support community leagues held in the spring and fall to give athletes access to year-round basketball programming. The community league We Got Next, offered in the fall and spring, is open to co-ed middle school and high school athletes. Younger athletes can participate in the fall Scholars and Athletes program offered at the War Memorial Recreation Center.
For questions about basketball leagues or other sports programming, contact Vlad Pierre at firstname.lastname@example.org