While the world’s top professional basketball players battle to claim the National Basketball Association championship, players of a much younger vintage will be battling for basketball honours in Lethbridge.
The Lethbridge Minor Basketball Association’s annual Battle at the Bridge tournament will take place June 1-2 at venues throughout the city, featuring as many as 100 teams competing in Under 11, Under 13 and Under 15 categories.
The teams will hail from across Western Canada, with more than 1,000 players and coaches expected from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The event features players as young as nine, and both boys’ and girls’ divisions.
This year, with the tournament celebrating its 10th anniversary, a special touch has been added in the form of an art contest open to students from grades 6 to 8 and 9 to 12 in order to create an event poster to mark the milestone occasion.
With neither the University of Lethbridge or Lethbridge College available this year, tournament games will be spread around to Lethbridge schools, which has added a logistical wrinkle for organizers, says tournament co-ordinator Helen Sheen.
“It’s more of a challenge,” admits Sheen, who says “probably 13 to 15 schools” will be employed to stage the tournament, which will involve some 200 to 220 games.
Because of the use of more venues, “we’ll need more volunteers, more supervisors,” Sheen adds.
Each team is guaranteed at least three games, and team awards will be handed out for the top three places in each division. There will also be individual awards including player of the game, hustle and MVP honours. Players will also receive tournament T-shirts and treat bags.
The LMBA puts on two such tournaments each season, with the June event marking the second and final one of the season.
Sheen and her husband Greg have been organizing the Battle at the Bridge tournaments for the past nine years, originally getting involved when their own kids were participating in the LMBA program. She says when she first began, the tournaments would feature about 20 teams, so she has seen the event’s tremendous growth first-hand.
While all teams take to the court with the goal of winning, the tournament’s goal is to ensure all participants have a positive experience playing basketball.
“We want kids to learn how to have fun through sport,” says Sheen, adding the program also aims to give all youngsters an opportunity to play basketball.
“When people ask me why I do it, I say I do it for the kids,” she says. “That’s really what it is … to see some smiles. It’s a pleasure and a joy.”
The LMBA began about 10 years ago with a focus on providing basketball opportunities at the grassroots level. The LMBA’s mission statement indicates it is “a non-profit organization committed to facilitating quality basketball development and opportunities in southern Alberta.”
The organization’s program has broadened to include the Jr. NBA (for players ages 4 to 6), the Steve Nash program, the Super League program (for players ages 9-10 and 11-12), Grade 6-8 basketball, and club basketball for the Under 11, Under 13 and Under 15 age categories.
Travis Grindle, one of the LMBA’s original board members, said the program was created “to introduce kids to the sport of basketball,” and do so in a structured way that would enhance their development.
The Jr. NBA program for the youngest players “does a great job” of giving them an introduction to the game in a way that is both fun and educational, Grindle explains. “It’s learning the very basic fundamentals — movement skills and handling the ball, then slowly implement shooting, passing and game concepts.”
The LMBA helps players transition to more competitive levels as they get older. The program’s success in that regard is borne out by some notable alumni, among them current U of L Pronghorn stars Zac Overwater with the men’s team and Kacie Bosch of the women’s squad.
Who knows, some future university and college stars might be running the courts during the Battle at the Bridge at the start of June. But even the players who don’t go on to post-secondary program will be having fun playing the same game the NBA stars are playing — just doing it a little closer to the floor.