Having an administration supportive of athletics can go miles and miles for coaches. Just ask Cascade Champion boys basketball coach Chris Lawson and Eaglette basketball coach Kyle Turnham.
When the opportunity to implement an elementary level, county-wide basketball league, the two high school coaches jumped at the opportunity, which was first championed by Bedford County superintendent Dr. Tammy Garrett.
“Dr. Garrett, she gets all the credit, as far as having an idea and a vision for this elementary league. She kind of came to principals back in the summer and presented it and had some positive feedback. She and Barry Bennett worked together to develop some thoughts and ideas about it. She approached myself and Kyle Turnham about helping out a little bit to get it off the ground. We’ve just tried to get organized and get it started. I think, in the long run, be a very, very beneficial thing,” Lawson said.
After approaching the county’s elementary schools, a plan was set into place to establish a league that transitions between the Junior Pro level and the Middle School level that not only allows elementary students a chance to compete for their respective schools, but a chance to learn the game at a higher level that helps transition to scholastic competition.
“Total credit for this goes to Dr. Garrett and Barry Bennett at the central office. Dr. Garrett has been a driving force behind this. She was the one who really wanted the elementary league to take place. Her support and Barry’s support has been invaluable, as well as their counsel. This is something that we’re so indebted to her as a superintendent and him as an athletic director to have people that have a great vision like we do as coaches and see just how important this is. We couldn’t;’t be more pleased to be serving under them,” Turnham said.
The league held tryouts earlier this year and allows scholastic competition among fourth and fifth graders in the county.
Each of the eight elementary schools in the county feature both a boys and girls team.
The league is formatted so each school will play each other once. Games are held on Saturdays, beginning at 8 a.m., and will run for eight consecutive Saturdays.
Cascade hosted the first day of competition over the weekend, but each school will host a day of play as the season progresses.
Community will be the next school to host this weekend, with Liberty and Thomas Magnet also hosting at their schools.
Eakin, Southside, Eastside and Learning Way will host their respective days at Harris Middle, due to those schools not having a gym.
From a developmental standpoint, both Turnham and Lawson agree the league is invaluable for the future scholastic programs players will play for, but also for giving back to the community in allowing another opportunity for young athletes to learn the game of basketball.
“I don’t think you can put a price tag on it. What we’re trying to do is create an environment where fundamentals at a higher level are being taught. The younger we can teach them, the better it will be for them as players and us as coaches,” Turnham said.
“It’s going to be unbelievable as far as a development. I think it will be unbelievable for all kids in Bedford County because they’ll be able to get a solid foundation of how a real basketball is play, how a season of real basketball games come together. Playing in an actual game and real officials and the crowd,” Lawson added.
The league is open to fourth and fifth graders and after the the eight Saturdays of play are completed, Shelbyville Central will host a final four and a championship round for both the boys and girls teams.
In establishing the elementary league, the county’s athletes are brought in under a single league and will experience the level of broader organization that middle and high school athletes experience at a much earlier age.
“At this age, they’re otherwise playing for Junior Pro and unfortunately, we have multiple Junior Pro leagues, so kids get spread out and don’t cross section with each other. This is going to be the best of the best that we have at our schools and they’re going to be playing for their schools and playing at a higher level. It benefits the players tremendously, benefits the elementary schools and ultimately, it will benefit us somewhere down the line,” Turnham said.
Participation has been excellent from a turnout standpoint so far, with each of the schools seeing big numbers for the tryouts.
“There’s been a lot of interest. I think at first it was smaller, but it’s grown as we’ve gone. Now, every school has a boys team and a girls team, with anywhere from 10 to 13 or 14 players on their roster. Most schools had anywhere from 25-35 to try out,” Lawson said.
But for Turnham, the opportunity to give back to the community stands above any of the other benefits the league could possibly bear fruits for down the road.
“I think it’s critical because No. 1 from a community standpoint, I think we have a responsibility to be something besides just coaching Eaglettes. It’s about helping the community. Whether that be on the basketball floor with the elementary league, or we’ve worked the horse show—things like that. I think that all young people need to understand you want to try to be someone who gives back to your community and be a positive influence for your community. The earlier we can teach that through the game of basketball or otherwise, that helps kids and helps the community down the line,” he said.
And with the first year in existence, there will surely be bumps along the road, but for now, the community support has been outstanding for getting the league off the ground.
“The support has been tremendous. Junior Pro is a good thing and it’s been set for a while. Our vision for this is to not compete with Junior Pro, but have an elementary league that allows you to transition into middle school and then into high school basketball. We’re looking for a complete development of young basketball players,” Lawson said.
“One of the great things about this league is it benefits all the schools in the entire county. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids.
The other thing I think that is important is that this league, this is the first time these kids are competing for their school,” Turnham said.
“What we’re doing is trying to make our players great people, not just great basketball players. Shelbyville is such a wonderful community that is so passionate and so supportive of its youth. We have a very prideful and very blue collar community that is very supportive. So if our basketball team is as prideful and as hard working as our community is, then our basketball team is going to be successful as well. It’s a large picture that just happens to go through basketball.”