With high school schedules being so limited, and competition so often being marginal, many parents believe that getting their young athlete on a travel team will serve them well on many levels. Ideally, the kids learn time-management skills, see better competition and quality coaching, and meet similarly motivated young athletes.
We often hear workplace water cooler stories about those weekend trips to Binghamton or Syracuse or Rochester for basketball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, or many other sports, and we admire the collective effort put forth by athletes and their families to make these travel teams viable.
Then, we hear what can happen when teams work hard to hone their skills and improve by leaps and bounds, and we realize that things don’t get easier at that point. They get more difficult. And that, of course, is the kind of challenge we want our kids to face.
A case in point is the S.T.A.R.S., the local 14-and-under boys’ basketball team that won the AAU Niagara district qualifier tournament a month ago and is heading to the national tournament in Orlando next week. The S.T.A.R.S.’ roster features players from Ithaca, Lansing, Newfield, and Corning, and according to team parent Matt Clark (whose son, Trevor, is on the team), “They have seen some great success this year, as their spring record was 36-4. They won the regionals last month, and they did well in some of the bigger tournaments in New York City, Albany and Rochester.” (The timing of that regional win worked out very well for the Clark family, as Trevor’s 17-year old brother, Jeff, plays on a Rochester-based team that will be in Florida at the same time.)
Tim Little is the S.T.A.R.S. head coach, and I asked him how long this group has been playing together. Tim (whose son, Luke, is on the team) said he had started with the majority of them in fifth grade, so it had reached four years now. I followed up by asking if having a core of players who know one another well on and off the court is a key to their success, and he offered, “That’s the biggest reason I keep doing this. Each year, they get better, they play more competitively and it’s pleasing to see that improvement.” Little laughed and added, “Every year I say ‘Maybe this is my last year,’ but for some reason, they keep driving me back.”
The coach admits that he loves coaching the team, but he unselfishly added, “At some point, they might see that it is possible to branch out and play at an even more competitive level, and I am fine with that.”
Like most youth coaches, Little is like a juggler with a few balls in the air. The former Tompkins County Sheriff’s deputy is now a full-time New York State court officer, and also serves as a part-time assistant coach for the Ithaca High School basketball program (after many years as a volunteer). As if Luke’s travel schedule was not demanding enough, Tim’s 14-year old daughter plays on a national-level AAU team that practices four days a week in Binghamton. Tim drives half the time, a fellow team parent takes the other half, and that team plays a crazy tournament schedule that takes them all over the country.
It’s okay, though. Little stated, “I just love sitting in a gym and watching basketball. When our team has a break, I’ll often just watch the other teams play.”
While work responsibilities will prevent Tim from making the trip to Florida, another team dad will take over and the kids will have their opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the country, and have the satisfaction of knowing their hard work is paying off. Tim said, “Even though I can’t make the trip, I’m very happy that our team has this opportunity. They are a great group, and they make me very proud.”