It's time for other towns to follow Naugatuck's lead
In my 10 years on the media scene, I've been asked on more than one occasion by local basketball coaches why Naugatuck High School, a school with a strong athletic following, does not have as strong a student body presence at basketball games as other teams.
It’s a very good question. And it comes with a very easy answer. Those kids have their own games to play.
Thanks to the Naugatuck Basketball Association, kids cut by the high school team have a place to play. The league, as popular as it has ever been in its 35 years, has 13 teams and around 200 players.
Growing up, basketball was a great passion of mine, but, believe it or not, I struggled in a few aspects of the game. Namely, dribbling, shooting and interior defense. For the record, I could hold my own guarding the perimeter in a zone, but you get my point. I had just as strong a chance of playing for the Yankees than I did the Naugatuck High School basketball team.
Thankfully, I still had an opportunity to play the sport I love in a team setting. And, to this day, I have fonder memories playing in this league than I did any baseball one, despite the fact I was a lot better baseball player. Countless high school classes were spent trash-talking my friends on other teams and countless hours were spent at the gym watching other teams play. The league and my team meant everything to me, as it did with many others I know.
The past four years, I had the chance to kind of relive my youth by attending my brother Billy’s games.
To my pleasant surprise, the league was full of players from my era, such as Bill Cowan, Justin Savarese, Mike Monahan, Paul Singley and Ricky Toole, either coaching of refereeing. Not to my surprise, the intensity and passion from the players in the league is as strong as it’s ever been.
Seeing this always makes me wonder why other towns don’t have leagues like this for kids. Players who don’t make high school baseball teams still have the Babe Ruth League, yet leagues like the Naugatuck Basketball Association are far and few between.
Naugatuck has been lucky to have someone in Kevin McSherry, the commissioner of the league, to do the dirty work to make the league go. McSherry has been a vital part of the league since 1982 in every role conceivable, spending thousands of hours working and thousands of dollars on sponsorships, rent and uniforms. And in doing so, he’s paved the way for thousands of kids to have a place to still play basketball and a place to go after school.
Setting up a similar league is unquestionably a major task, but one look at Naugatuck is all you need to know it’s worth it. Hopefully, one day down the road leagues across the state like the “NBA” will be the norm, not a rare exception.