Thirty-four teams. Six communities. Four age divisions. More than 200 kids.

For the eighth consecutive season, hundreds of boys and girls from ages 4 through the sixth grade are learning the fundamentals and fun of basketball in a league sponsored by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.

The city’s biggest recreational program kicked off Saturday with the two youngest age divisions and will conclude in February with as many as 30 games played each Saturday in town.

“This program gives kids a chance to play, a chance to exercise and a chance to learn how the game is played,” said Jim Root, director of the parks and recreation department.

There are eight different divisions in the program. The pre-K through kindergarten and first-second grade divisions began a four-week season last weekend. Following a week break after the completion of their seasons, boys and girls groups in the third-fourth grade and fifth-sixth grade divisions will kick off a six-week season.

The league’s upper divisions includes teams from Houston, Raymondville, Mansfield, Norwood, Willow Springs and Salem. Weekends begin at 8 a.m. for the older divisions and can end as late as 12 hours later.

“This league isn’t ran by one person,” Root said. “There are 30-35 people helping pull this off every weekend. It takes a lot of people and is an all-day process, but it’s great for these kids.”

Designed as an instructional league, the youngest divisions compete on eight-foot goals inside the former cabinet making building on Industrial Drive. The older divisions will play games at the high and middle school gyms in Houston on regulation goals and courts.

“We really emphasize fun and making sure the kids enjoy it,” Root said. “We want them to learn the fundamentals and enjoy doing it.

“Once they hit the third grade, we make it more competitive and hopefully prepare them for middle and high school.”

Root said the league is a positive for Houston’s economy with 500 or more people in town for ballgames. He said that benefits businesses during the slow winter months of the year.

“The business owners will have people in town who maybe wouldn’t be here otherwise. The restaurants and merchants who are open do pretty well. In order to be productive, you need people in town.”

The basketball league is one of three sports seasons the parks department offers. The group also hosts baseball and two soccer seasons.

“I’m a believer in the impact of sports in a child’s life,” Root said. “Sports give kids an opportunity to learn about life –– success as well as disappointments.”

Businesses sponsorships for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department basketball league help offset the costs passed along to families. There is a need for more assistance.

Director Jim Root said he needs more businesses to help financially support this year’s youth basketball league.

Root said he intentionally keeps cost minimal for players and families to make the league affordable. It is $15 for the younger players and $25 for older ones. Fans are asked to pay $2 for an entire day of watching games.

Sponsorships help offset shortfalls at the gate –– it costs $800 to $1,000 each weekend to play games –– and provide insurance for players. Sponsors make a one-time donation of $100 and receive advertising inside the gymnasium and a “thank you” ad in the Houston Herald.

“Without enough sponsorships, the program won’t last. It can’t,” Root said. “The program has proven itself valuable for the community and the kids. You aren’t throwing money away. You can see every Saturday where the money is going. And as a business, hopefully you see some return from bringing that many people into town.”

To sponsor the league, call city hall at 967-3348.

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