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By JOEL COLEMAN
It's been a year of adjustment for the Starkville Area Youth basketball program.
For over 30 years, SAY was ran and orchestrated by it's own board of directors, but for the first time ever, the long-running league was taken over by Starkville Parks and Recreation this year.
With its first season in control of SAY now nearing an end, SPRD assistant sport coordinator Shelia Coleman says the changeover has seemed to be a roaring success.
"Things have been more efficient," said Coleman, who also helped with SAY basketball in years past. "Everything is worked on in-house and collectively in one place. It used to take phone calls here and there, having to call meetings here and there, trying to reschedule things or get together. With the SAY board, everybody had their own individual jobs and did SAY on the side. Now, we can take care of all of our problems at once. It has been an effective transition."
This year's SAY league began play in mid-January and features eight separate divisions of boys and girls who are currently in the 2nd to 9th grade age range.
The regular season runs through the end of this month with playoffs taking the league through the first week of March.
While there are still games left to be played, Fred Tate doesn't need anymore evidence that the SAY switchover has been a good thing.
"It has been great," said Tate. "The kids love it. Of course there are other leagues kids can play in like Upward, but you get a good measurement of what your kid is about in SAY."
If anyone knows about SAY basketball, that person is Tate. He has been a long-time coach in the league and is currently guiding the Starkville Saints, a team made up of 3rd and 4th grade boys.
He also sponsors a 5th grade boys team of the same name.
"It's an honor that kids have always come up to me and want to be on my team every year," said Tate. "I can be at the McDonald's, Wendy's or Walmart. Parents come and tell me, 'Fred, I want my child on your team.'
With the experience Tate possesses in SAY, he knows the benefits that kids receive from participating.
One of those perks comes in the form of the soon-to-start postseason that gives players the chance to learn how to perform in a pressure-packed situation.
"These kids are all pumped up," said Tate. "You can throw all the perfect records and things out the door. I've seen No. 8 seeds beat a No. 1 seed before. It's just like March Madness."
Though Tate and the kids have once again found SAY to be an outstanding experience with SPRD now at the helm, Coleman says there have been a few hitches that have needed to be ironed out along the way.
"Overall, (the transition process) had been really smooth," said Coleman. "I personally have learned though that scheduling 48 teams with eight games each per season, it's difficult.
"We've also had to transition to a new software program and learn some new things. In any sporting event, there will be scheduling issues and such though."
The Starkville area's recent winter weather has also presented challenges for Coleman and the SPRD staff.
No matter the issue, however, the kids who play SAY hoops refuse to have their spirits dampened.
"We've had to cancel because of icy roads and things and parents will call saying 'When are those games going to be scheduled because my child is really looking forward to this?'" said Coleman. "I just tell them that we're getting them in there. So the kids have just really enjoyed it."
According to Coleman, the future is just as exciting as the present for SAY. With a year of learning now under SPRD's belt, Coleman thinks the league will continue to improve.
"We're really looking forward to it growing and we think it can grow," said Coleman. "I hope it does grow. I think it's a really good program and the kids really enjoy it."
"Whatever the name is, whether it's SAY or Starkville Parks, I love it," said Tate. "I hope it continues to stay."