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Echoes of bouncing basketballs, squeaking shoes, and parents yelling “dribble” have filled local middle school gyms for the last five weeks during the inaugural season of the Junior Warriors Basketball League.
The six-game season includes 340 players split into 34 teams. All participants receive a Junior Warriors jersey, similar to the official jersey. The league ends next week.
The program, a collaboration between the San Benito County Police Activities League (PAL) and Hollister Recreation, was originally going to be offered at a reduced fee of $35 per player, but the Hollister City Council voted on Nov. 5 to offer the program at no cost, Recreation coordinator Nicholas Merolla said.
“Some families struggle to pay the $300 for other leagues or even $76 for our winter league,” Merolla said. “This Junior Warriors program allows us to provide all children in our community with the opportunity to play basketball.”
Joanna Ramirez said the program has allowed her to enroll her five children, ages five to 14.
“Es una bendición,” Ramirez said. “Es una bendición muy grande porque muchos [padres] no tienen el dinero para pagar para cada niño.”
(It’s a blessing. It’s a huge blessing because many [parents] don’t have the money to pay for each child.)
She also said that out of fairness, if she could not afford to register all her children, she would not have registered any of them. Ramirez’s husband Noe is the official coach. She sits next to him on the bench and partakes in encouraging players with shouts of “good job!”
Along with the families participating in the Hollister Recreation sport leagues, Merolla said new families are also enrolling their children, and families that could previously afford to enroll only one child are now enrolling others.
Teams play a game a week, Merolla said, and have a one hour-long practice session per week as well. Coaches are parents and community members who want to share their love of basketball with the children.
“All of our coaches are volunteers and this program would not be possible without them,” Merolla said. “We are seeking more volunteers to help make this program a success.”
The basketball league is largely the result of the success of the Junior Giants baseball program. To be able to provide a quality basketball program for the children, Merolla said, nine coaches attended a two hour-clinic led by NBA and WNBA players and coaches at the Rakuten Performance Center in Oakland. Merolla said the coaches were not required to attend, but volunteered their time.
“This program will help give children the tools to be positive members in our society,” Merolla said. “Children develop teamwork skills, learn leadership skills and gain confidence.”