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If there’s a month known for basketball, March is it. Across the nation, college teams descend into madness while their fans draw brackets and make bets; across the state, high schoolers travel to Binghamton to duke it out in the NYSPHSAA Championships, and here in Chautauqua County, local youth scramble to form teams and lace up basketball sneakers for the YMCA’s annual 3 on 3 indoor tournament.
This year’s competition, funded by Signature Paving and Sealcoating, will take place at the Lakewood YMCA branch from March 17 to 19. Over 200 teams will compete Saturday and Sunday in divisions determined by gender and grade level. On Friday, players are invited to a free pre-tournament pizza party and are also challenged to show off their best tricks during the YMCA’s basketball skills contest from 6-8 p.m.
According to Tom Anderson, branch manager of the Lakewood YMCA and tournament coordinator, this year will mark the eighth anniversary of the indoor tournament. The original inspiration for the event, Anderson said, came from his own love of basketball as well as the sheer size of the Lakewood YMCA’s facility.
“I played in tournaments, Gus Mackers, all my life,” Anderson said. “For a long time, I thought because of the size of our building, it would be a good place to have a basketball tournament. No one else really has our size. The other thing was, it’s a great time of year: March Madness is going on, spring sports haven’t started yet, there’s a couple weekends left before spring break. It kind of gives the high school kids ending their basketball seasons the chance to play one more day.”
Mark Eckendorf, CEO of the Jamestown Area YMCAs, said that the idea of hosting an indoor basketball tournament fit seamlessly with YMCA programming and values.
“The Y has always been known for basketball – basketball was actually invented at a YMCA,” Eckendorf said. “It’s always been a big part of our programming, from kindergarteners to adults. It teaches a lot of coachable moments and a lot of values.”
When the tournament first began in 2010, it drew modest attention from the community and originally hosted about 50 teams in a one-day competition. Now, the tournament draws in over 200 teams from as far as Erie, Olean, Warren, and Bradford. With four players to each team, that totals more than 800 local youth converging at the Lakewood YMCA. As a result, the tournament has since been split into two main days to accommodate the numbers, with players from grades 3-6 competing on Saturday and players from grades 7-12 playing Sunday. At any given time, there can be up to 14 games being played within the YMCA’s facility.
“It takes about three months to plan this tournament,” Anderson said. “We have to get the information out, we have to line up the sponsors, we have to get refs, and we have to schedule nearly 600 games over the course of two days.”
Festivities kick off Friday night, with a pizza party provided by Honest John’s Pizzeria, an NBA skills competition, T-shirt and schedule pickup, and open court time for teams wanting to practice. There is music, an M.C., and concessions available the whole weekend.
“The NBA skills competition has been a big hit,” Anderson said. “We do a dribbling and passing skills contest, and then a shooting contest. The kids get prizes. It’s really fun, and we get hundreds of people here.”
The cost for a team to enter this year’s tournament is $120, with raised proceeds going towards YMCA youth programming. This includes providing scholarships for YMCA summer and day camps. Each summer, hundreds of children attend Jamestown Area YMCA camps which allow them to socialize, learn, and go on field trips to surrounding parks and events. Thanks to the 3 on 3 fundraiser, discounted rates are available for parents who cannot afford the full cost.
“We put the money towards our summer camps and always end up being able to scholarship a lot of kids for those programs,” Anderson said. “We also scholarship YMCA memberships for the youth.”
As for the cost of the tournament itself, Anderson says local sponsors are a crucial component in putting on the event. This year’s sponsors include Signature Paving and Sealcoating, Cricket Wireless, Media One Group, Kwik Fill, Truck-Lite, ERA Real Estate, and Gratti Development of WNY, LLC. Other help comes in the form of volunteers: each year, community members offer to help with tournament parking and facilitation.
“The sponsorships are really beneficial because they allow us to do the extra things,” Anderson said. “It makes us a little bit different from other tournaments; we do the free pizza party and we give out nice awards.”
Anderson encourages community members to venture out to the Lakewood YMCA this weekend, watch some good basketball, and support the local area youth.
“This is a great family activity – we see moms, dads, grandparents coming out to watch,” Anderson said. “The kids look forward to it and get excited, especially because it’s not just for the high school players. It’s a chance for kids who aren’t on their school teams to play; it’s a chance for little kids, as young as third grade, to play at their own level. They stay all day. It’s amazing.”
For more information on this year’s Signature Paving and Sealcoating Youth Indoor 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament, call the Lakewood YMCA at 763-0303 or the Jamestown YMCA at 664-2802. Information is also available online at www.jamestownymca.org.