The basketball league hosted by the Houston Parks Department is more than just competition. Its main focus, director Jim Root said, is instruction.

Following many of the whistles for a violation on the court, especially in the younger divisions, is an explanation from the official to the player who made the mistake.

“The officials are sometimes coaches,” Root said. “With some bigger, competitive leagues, the officials are not going to take the time to tell you what they called. They’ll go on as if it was an actual high school game.

“Instructional means these kids are learning. We want to see them improve.”

It its eighth year, the league provided both instruction and competition to more than 200 kids from six communities in 2014. Along with Houston, there were teams from Raymondville, Willow Springs, Salem, Norwood and Mansfield competing during the seven-week season. Nine of the 31 teams were from Houston.

Root, who helps officiate games, said developing players’ skills and knowledge of the game is important. But it’s not the most important component of the league.

“We’re so win oriented,” Root said. “They forget if they don’t have fun, we’ll lose them. Somehow we’ve kind of drifted away from that. We’ve got to make sure the kids enjoy it.”

The Houston Middle School and Hiett Gymnasium are flooded with players, families and workers for six weekends of regular-season games and another Saturday for the tournament. Games begin at 8 a.m. in both locations and conclude 12 hours later. A staff of 30 volunteers –– helping run the clock, keep the scorebook, supervise the gyms and referee the games –– assist throughout the day. The band boosters from Houston Schools worked the gate and concessions.

Root estimates 500-600 people come in and out of the gym each Saturday. They also spend time in the community. Teams often have three or four hours of down time between games.

“We get lots of positive feedback from businesses,” Root said. “Those people who come to the gym are going to eat, shop and possibly buy gas.”

The rules are tweaked to accommodate the skill levels of the players. While the fifth and sixth grade players mostly follow regulation rules, younger players shoot from a closer foul line and can’t play defense past the volleyball lines. All games are played with a running clock.

Root said hosting the league in Houston cuts travel for local kids. It also establishes a foundation in them playing the game of basketball.

“When these kids become high schoolers, you want to see that they love the game and have improved,” Root said. “You hope the instruction now will benefit everyone down the road.”

We’re so win oriented. They forget if they don’t have fun, we’ll lose them. Somehow we’ve kind of drifted away from that. We’ve got to make sure the kids enjoy it.”

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