By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO March 15, 2002 Not all of this weeks March Madness will take place during games between NCAA Division I basketball teams at various sites around the nation.
Some of it occurred Monday evening at the Monticello Middle School.
As they have each Monday night since the beginning of January, about 40 sixth-graders in the Monticello school district met in the middle school gymnasium to play basketball.
Sponsored by the Monticello Police Benevolent Association and Village of Monticello Parks and Recreation Department, the four-team hoops league gives the sixth-graders a chance to exercise and learn more about the rules and jargon of basketball. Most importantly, the league allows the youngsters an opportunity to have fun.
This is our second year for the league, said Betsy Conaty, Director of the Monticello Parks and Recreation Department. We also have a clinic for third, fourth and fifth graders on Saturdays and that is in its sixth year.
She noted that the basketball league is geared to sixth-graders because most of them have participated in the hoops clinics for at least one year. And they are not quite old enough to participate on the Monticello modified sports teams, which are for seventh and eighth-graders.
So we created the league for them because they are in-between the clinics and playing on the modified level, Conaty explained. We teach them skills and do various drills. And of course, they get to play games each week.
Scores are kept as the teams play two 20-minute halves with a running clock. (Although the clock is stopped for timeouts, fouls and turnovers in the final two minutes of each half.)
Conaty and several other adult volunteers serve as coaches and referees. As coaches, they substitute freely to make sure that each player sees plenty of court time and as referees they whistle fouls and rules violations to help the kids learn the proper way to play the game.
Among those volunteers are Michael Barnofsky (who also conducts the Saturday clinics for the younger students), Monticello Police Department School Resource Officer Jason Corley, Steve Kapito and Carl Silverstein.
The teams are full and plenty of parents and supporters are here watching, Barnofsky said as he looked around the gym during a break in the action. This is so fun and exciting for the kids. They really have a good time.
That was evident as the youngsters cheered whenever a teammate made a shot or stole the ball from an opposing player.
An added benefit of the league, as 13-year-old Rashad Williams noted, is the fact that the players must earn good grades in the classroom in order to keep playing in the league.
Its a good league, Williams said. It teaches us skills and were learning how to play well. We get exercise and its a fun sport to play.
When asked what he liked most about the league, Williams paused for a couple of seconds before answering.
Shooting and passing the ball, he said. And getting to know kids you didnt already know.