By Anthony D. Alonzo
Gary (Indiana) Post-Tribune correspondent
More than 40 teams show up for NAYS tourney
By the time the last games of the 2009 North American Youth Sports tournament had rolled around April 5 in Gary, supportive parents and instructive coaches had cheered on 42 basketball teams.
That collective "hurray" for the NAYS event held at the Indiana University Northwest gymnasium marked the 14th consecutive year that the nation's leading provider of youth basketball tournaments hit the region.
Teams from south suburban Chicago to the South Bend area represented Amateur Athletic Union, recreational and other programs in the tournament that guaranteed at least two games to each squad.
Tournament director and longtime youth basketball coach John DeBeck of Wisconsin said that there are a host of other NAYS rules that were established to give each athlete a fair shot.
"Our goals are more to give kids a lot of chances to play as opposed to just winning awards," DeBeck said between tournament games. "Improving skills for later basketball success in high school or college is far more important."
DeBeck said that the Green Bay-based youth basketball organization normally hosts a tournament somewhere in the Chicagoland area every weekend from March through July. With an increasing number of young athletes participating in these events, he emphasized that as long as the "fun part" of fundamentals practice is emphasized by coaches and parents, he would guarantee that participants would not be lost to "burn-out."
Crown Point's fifth grade Bulldogs AAU team stuck with its program through the final seconds of its loss to Illinois-based Next Generation, 41-36. Playing with a combination of poise and maturity that could have a spectator asking if these kids weren't older than 11 and 12 years old, the CP boys executed inside and perimeter games.
The Bulldogs took a 17-15 lead into the second of two 14-minutes halves April 5. Crown Point's Grant Gelon launched several would-be three-point baskets (the Gary venue's courts were not marked with three-point arcs) en route to claiming half of his team's offensive output. But they would have to settle for runner-up status in the fifth-grade bracket.
Next Generation managed more timely fast breaks than the Bulldogs. And after going ahead early in the second half, they didn't allow C.P. to tighten-up the game any more than a two-point difference with 43 seconds left.
Grant Gelon recapped his final Spring NAYS game in terms of solid team play.
"We were always passing the ball -- we had good ball movement," the St. Mary School fifth-grader said. "(We got) really good open shots at the hoop."
Whereas Gelon had a good sense of where his teammates were on the court, his parents, Mark and Sandi Gelon said they could predict where their son might be when it's nice outdoors and he is between his other commitments.
"I'm always outside shooting," the boy quickly confirmed.
Like many of the other families who had shuttled their kids to the NAYS tournament, weekend athletic events are more the rule than the exception; Gelon also plays basketball on his school team and on a league at the Fieldhouse in Merrillville. Add in his participation in a travel baseball league for good measure.
On another court at the IUN facility, team X-Press from Harvey, Ill. had maintained a sizable lead over their Next Generation rivals for most of the game. Teammates Nykia Day and Ashley Hogan, both Thornton High School freshmen, exited the hardwood together and celebrated their squad's 31-21 victory.
Though the girls had to settle for a third-place finish in their high school bracket, their parents said the drive to Gary was worth it -- if not for the fun of playing and cheering, then for their daughters' long-term athletic goals.
"This is her third year (participating on team outside of school,)" said Ashley Hogan's mom, Ruth Hogan. "And she's going all the way."
From Sharon Gunn, Director of Blaze Basketball Club, Chicago, Illinois
"By participating in the NAYS tournament, our teams, the "Blaze" were able to purchase new uniforms, gave our players additional exposure to tournaments, and helped reduce our operational budget."
From Brian Miller, Head Mens Basketball Coach, Milwaukee School of Engineering
"NAYS has helped us raise money for our group/team through their tournaments. They help take a lot of the leg work out of organizing and it is a simple turn-key process."
From Phil Edwards, Niagara Falls/Buffalo Tournament Patron
"What an amazing time! Thanks so much for hosting this wonderful event. My youth were thrilled. I will be on your site regularly seeking for the next opportunity. Also, how will we know if we qualified for Chicago? We'd really like to be there!"
From Teneashia Cunningham, Lansing Tournament Patron
"This is my third time participating in an NAYS tournament. We have had an awesome time! My entire team and staff will remember this for a lifetime!"
From Samantha Lusk, Wheeling Tournament Patron
"Thank you for the quick response. Your organization does an excellent job of keeping teams informed of schedule changes, etc...It is appreciated."
From Daniel Stephenitch, Patron of multiple NAYS events
"We will be sending two 9th/10th grade boys teams to your event in Crystal Lake. One is free with your spring promo special. Thank you for your continued great service!"
From George Shimko, GSBS Basketball Club Director
I wanted to thank you for introducing me to your family and for hosting a great tournament. Our 11 teams, whether they won or lost had a great experience all weekend long. NAYS should be very proud to have you, your staff and the Oswego East HS facility as a representative of their organization.
The staff was always present, the courts were great, even the penthouse court, the games were on time, the officiating was fair to all teams and all of our families were treated great from the time they entered until the time they left Oswego East HS each day. Our GSBS teams look forward to participating again next summer.
Best of Life,
From Jack Tharp, Nicholas County High School (West Virginia) Basketball Coach
This will be our first tournament we are running with NAYS in 2011, but we have attended several NAYS tournaments and were very impressed and pleased with how the tournaments were run.
From Dan Schilz, Oak Creek, Wisconsin tournament patron
Best Tourneys around. My Oak Creek 7th grade team will be entering all - shortly!