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New basketball league allows kids to focus on fun over pressure[]

By Hannah Dellinger hdellinger@newspost.com May 4, 2018 of the FrederickNewsPost.com

The music is cranked up. The parents are inaudible. And the kids are all smiles.

The goal of the inaugural AreA 3-ON-3 Basketball League is for children to have a chance to focus on figuring out the fundamentals of the game on their own without coaching or input from parents on the sidelines. As the name suggests, there are three players from each team on the court at a time. They play on half courts, and mandatory substitutions ensure equal playing time to all kids. There are no practices, only games once a week that last about 45 minutes to an hour at the Maryland School for the Deaf Elementary School in Frederick.

“I like how it’s not that big of a deal,” said 9-year-old Jalen Patterson. “In other basketball programs, they get on you about you doing something wrong. This is just for fun and it’s good to teach teamwork, and you don’t have to have coaching.”

Michael Eager, co-chairman of the program, said the smaller teams on a smaller court give the young players a chance to hone their skills more than they would in a traditional setting because they have more opportunities to get their hands on the ball.

“It really allows the kids to develop their shooting, their passing, their driving and all the fundamentals of the game,” Eager said. “What we found so far is the teams that have been the most successful are the teams that still share the ball.”

Eager and fellow co-chairman Timothy Helms started AreA 270 StarS, an Amateur Athletic Union basketball organization, with the goal of becoming Frederick’s most inclusive, affordable advanced-level basketball program. That program includes four teams in the AAU league and one developmental team.

But Eager and Helms wanted to create something just for fun that children with any experience level could join. They started the three-on-three league in April to fulfill that need.

“Parents can be so hard on their sons,” Helms said. “There’s so much pressure, and I want them to just come and have fun. There’s no practices, and nobody expects anything. That was my whole idea.”

It’s no coincidence that the music is turned up loudly during the games, Eager said.

“Youth sports parents can often dominate and kind of make it not fun for their kids because their expectations are so high,” he said. “So, we drown them out and we move them on one side of the court. They literally can’t hear their parents, and it’s fabulous.”

The three-on-three league quickly filled up with 70 kids — 30 from the AreA 270 StarS program and about 40 who are unaffiliated with the AAU teams.

The co-chairmen said they were surprised the new program filled up as quickly as it did. They spread the word about it through social media, posters and word-of-mouth.

“I didn’t expect this many people, I really didn’t,” Helms said. "And it can only get better."

The spring season has two divisions: one for children ages 10-and-under and one with kids in grades five through eight. The younger group makes up the league’s “college division” and the older group is its “NBA division.” The teams are named after teams in the real NCAA and NBA.

The teams are made up of one elite player each and are accompanied by kids with developing skill levels. Eager said that dynamic has allowed the newer players to learn from the more experienced ones.

“We wanted to be really inclusive with a wide range of skill level and we wanted the teams to be fair,” Eager said.

Hope Hebron, director of the league, said the three-on-three nights are “let-loose family fun nights.” Each week, there are free throw contests, gift card giveaways and raffles.

All the proceeds of the fundraising and the three-on-three league go to the AreA 270 StarS, Hebron said.

“The proceeds go toward helping us allow other children that may not be able to afford to play [join the team] and helping our kids get to nationals,” she said.

The AreA 3-ON-3 program costs $100 to join, which includes a uniform and 10 weeks of games, Hebron said. It costs $350 to join the AreA 270 StarS, which covers the entire tournament season. Hebron said those prices are much cheaper than those of most similar programs in the D.C. area.

Eager said he hopes to expand the three-on-three games with a league for girls. The program will return in early fall, he said.

“We’re looking to grow this,” Eager said. “I know personally, with my son, this is his favorite day of the week.”

Jalen said he encourages his peers who are new to basketball to give the new league a try.

“You don’t need to have special training,” he said. “We’re all here because we love basketball and it’s nice.”

Follow Hannah Dellinger on Twitter: @hdellingermedia.