Kids having fun is goal of Escanaba youth program

ESCANABA – It’s near the end of regulation for another year of the Escanaba Civic Center’s fifth- and sixth-grade basketball program.

The program wraps up the year today with five games played by fifth-grade girls teams from around the area.

Tom Penegor, recreation director for the city of Escanaba, has been involved in hosting the fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls basketball program at the civic center for approximately eight years, but said the program has taken place over the last several decades.

“What we do is we have four six-week seasons,” explained Penegor. Games are typically held each Saturday, and occasionally on Friday nights, in the civic center gymnasium. The first six-week season begins in September, with the final session wrapping up at the end of March.

“What we try to do is coincide them with the seasons, but when the high schools changed and made girls the same time as boys now where they play basketball together, we kind of changed, too, to coincide with that,” he said.

They also try to schedule their program around the schedules for local traveling basketball teams to find the least interference possible.

To become involved, students simply fill out a form to be on a team prior to the beginning of the season, which is then sent to the civic center, who breaks students up into teams based on their schools.

Escanaba is represented by four schools – Lemmer, Soo Hill, and Webster elementary schools, as well as Holy Name.

Due to the relocation of fifth- and sixth-grade students to the Upper Elementary this year, students from Escanaba Area Public Schools are split up based on where they used to attend elementary school – either Webster, Lemmer, or Soo Hill, said Penegor. Students then practice at that particular school.

Typically there are eight kids on a team, and usually eight teams represented in each of the four seasons, but these numbers vary.

“We used to have a lot more but the kid numbers are getting smaller and smaller,” he noted. “We’ve added extra teams to get more teams to fill up our schedule on Saturday mornings.”

The other schools who have gotten involved include Gladstone, Bark River, Rapid River, and Mid Peninsula.

The main goal of the program is not the competitive nature of basketball, but for the kids to have a great time.

“The most important thing is we want them to have fun,” said Penegor. “We want them just to learn the game. For a lot of kids, it’s their first exposure to a team sport where they can learn things like discipline, team sport, working together, things like that that most kids haven’t had exposure to – especially for basketball.”

Penegor noted the civic center program is a good way for students to gain experience for when they participate in basketball in seventh and eighth grade or at the high school level. The same is true for the students who serve as referees and scorekeepers at the games.

He estimates each week between 50 to 100 parents, relatives, or neighbors attend the games.

“The community really supports watching their children play these games,” he said. “It’s a really neat atmosphere on Saturday mornings.”

The program has also shown a strong relationship between the city of Escanaba and local schools, as the recreation department supplies the gym, referees, coaches, and others involved in the program, while the schools allow the use of their gymnasiums for practices.

“It’s a good working relationship between the city and the school system,” he said. “They also help us out with funding, because we do pay the referees and they do help us out with monies to pay for the program. The PTOs at these schools are a big help also.”

Today’s games begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Escanaba Civic Center gymnasium. Admission is $1 for adults and free for children.