Scholastic coaches enjoy benefits of summer
By Michael Boytim
Thursday night, Lakemont Park hosted seven basketball games that all featured either high school or junior high school teams a night after the Blair Regional YMCA hosted several high school boys games.
There was plenty of buzz among the people in attendance about Bishop Guilfoyle’s 100-96, three-overtime win over State College at the YMCA the night before as area teams like Altoona, Central, Penn Cambria and Chestnut Ridge got some work in as a team.
“Right now, we have six high school teams and nine junior high teams,” Central Blair Recreation Commission Lakemont Park Summer League Director Skip Dry said. “We have had a lot of positive feedback from all the coaches that they like to come out here. It’s different. We let them play a little bit more, and there’s a little more physicality. Coaches like that, because it gets them ready for the season.”
Penn Cambria, which defeated a Central team that did not bring its full compliment of players, 50-30, on Thursday, has won the high school division the past two seasons and captured the District 6 Class 4A title in spring.
“This is where the kids learn to play with one another,” Penn Cambria coach Jim Ronan said. “The chemistry and camaraderie all starts here. We don’t do a whole lot of open gyms in the summer, we just get out and play. All the kids you see here tonight for me, they are doing football during the day and then love coming here and doing this. They live for it, and it’s helped us out tremendously.”
Penn Cambria’s opponent on Thursday agreed with the importance of summer leagues.
“This is critical,” Central coach Paul Frederick said. “A lot of kids do a lot of different sports in the summer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this gives us a chance to work on our chemistry and work together and get ready for the season. If you don’t touch a ball from March until late November, it’s hard to start the season off on the right foot. It gives these guys a chance to stay in shape, spend time with their teammates and gives us a jump-start on the season.”
Dry said teams like Altoona and Bellwood-Antis that are breaking in new head coaches at the varsity level, can really benefit.
“(Tyler) Mertiff took over at Bellwood,” Dry said. “He gets a chance to see what’s coming up and what he can use. All the coaches like to see what they have coming up, and they can use this league for that.”
New Altoona coach Doug Pfeffer was not at Altoona’s game against Chestnut Ridge, but his team looked good in a 41-14 victory.
“Coach Pfeffer asked me to join the staff, and these guys are in a lot of leagues,” Altoona assistant coach Chris Buchanan said. “They have played a lot of basketball together already this summer. They have grown as a family. We ended our night by saying ‘1-2-3, family’ and I think that’s what our team needs going forward. They might have played 30 games together already, and these summer leagues are important.”
For Ridge, playing in the league this summer is helping new players find their roles.
“For our team, it’s critical,” Chestnut Ridge coach Don Ellis said. “We had eight seniors we lost last year. We have new guys coming in, and this is a critical time of the year. We’re putting the effort into it. The kids are buying into playing as a team. To have success in the Laurel Highlands (Athletic Conference), we need this experience. Any experience you can get is helpful.”
Ronan said the organized leagues help create an atmosphere similar to one he experienced naturally at a kid.
“Growing up, this is what you did in the summer,” Ronan said. “Not necessarily in leagues like this, but as a kid, you got together on a court and played basketball and learned how to play the game. It’s a different generation and different times, and this is a way to get the kids together and learn and play a different style of physical, playground-style basketball that is good for them.”