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Youth league going strong

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

They gave it their all.

Dozens of young basketball players representing elementary schools in Troup County put on an entertaining and fast-paced show on Wednesday evening.

The City-Wide Elementary Basketball League, which includes teams from five different local schools, kicked off last week with three games in the Whitesville Elementary School gym.

League play continued this week on Wednesday, with intramural teams from Berta Weathersbee, Callaway, LaGrange Academy, Ethel Kight and Long Cane participating.

The games will continue on Wednesdays through Feb. 20, and the final games will be played on Feb. 23.

The league was organized by Otis Gilbert, and he’s been grateful for the support he has received from everyone associated with the participating schools.

The teams are coached by the physical-education teachers at each of the participating schools.

“(The coaches) have been tremendous, and also the principals have been on board,” Gilbert said. “And the kids are enjoying it. They have been perfect with me to make this work.”

Wednesday’s session ended with a thriller between the Ethel Kight Blue team and Callaway Elementary.

It wasn’t decided until the closing moments, with Ethel Kight hanging on for the 28-26 win.

In Wednesday’s other games, Ethel Kight Gold beat Berta Weathersbee 19-12, and Long Cane got past LaGrange Academy 32-19.

There will be more league games on Jan. 30, Feb. 6, Feb. 13 and Feb. 20, all at Whitesville Elementary School.

On Feb. 23, there will be three final games, leading up to the championship game between the top two teams.

While the skill level varies greatly among the players, they’re all learning lessons that the coaches believe will help them down the road.

Larry Murdock, the head coach for both of the Ethel Kight teams, said the young players are “just learning how to work together without arguing. It teaches great communication skills, and dealing with adversity.”

Murdock, a Waycross native who played football at LaGrange College where he majored in early-childhood education, said he “was thrilled” to get his players involved in the league.

“We already have a miniature league at Ethel Kight,” Murdock said. “We have four teams, and we play every Wednesday.”

Murdock added that the players are learning skills now that in the past they may now have acquired until a few years down the road.

“Now, they’re getting (those lessons) before middle school,” Murdock said.

Robyn McCann, who coaches the Callaway team along with Dialleo Burks, watched her players lose by two points on Wednesday night. She was, though, pleased to see an attitude improvement of some of the players.

“We’ve got some kids we’ve been working with, and they were completely different kids from last week,” said McCann, the head softball coach at Callaway High.

McCann added that “I think the earlier they learn, the better it is. I think it’s great. This will make it easier for them in middle school.”

Burks, the former LaGrange High head football coach, has enjoyed the challenge of coaching young players.

“You want to get them young, and allow them to grow,” Burks said. “This is a great system. It’s definitely good.”

Marcus Blandinburg, coach of the Berta Weathersbee team, loves the “character-building” aspect of the league, and organized team sports.

“Our kids need that. They need how to learn to fight adversity,” Blandinburg said. “That’s the big thing. And knowing that life is hard. What are you going to do? Are you going to learn from it? What are you going to get out of it? I could care less about winning. As long as they learn from their mistakes, learn how to fight and never give up, that’ll make them better.”

PARTICIPATING SCHOOLS

Berta Weathersbee, Callaway, Ethel Kight, LaGrange Academy and Long Cane

COACHES

Dr. Shaunita Strozier, Keenan Knight, John Curry, Marcus Blandingburg, Ernest Ward, Larry Murdock, Sara Proctor, TaShara Fitzpatrick, Steven Edelson, Robyn McCann, Dialleo Burks, Candace McGhee and LaTonya Young.