A WARRNAMBOOL basketball official says a jump in junior participation points to a strong future for the sport in the south-west.
Speaking ahead of the 22nd annual Seaside Junior Classic, Warrnambool Junior Basketball chairman Michael Gray said there were a number of factors contributing to the rise.
“We have had a big increase, in particular at domestic level, and we’ve had very strong community interest in squads which leads to bigger interest in the seaside classic,” he said.
“I think there are a couple of reasons for it. One is the broader awareness of families of kids being involved in sport and community awareness of the importance of health.
“The team environment of basketball too — kids enjoy it and the freedom of the game itself. Kids enjoy running, throwing and catching.
The other thing is you have the opportunity to represent your city. Kids look forward to the tryouts.”
Seventy-eight Victorian and South Australian sides, from under 12s to under 18s, have entered the annual Seaside Junior Classic two-day tournament this weekend.
Teams from Horsham, Terang, Millicent, Portland, Bellarine, Colac, Hamilton, Koroit, Ararat, Timboon, Mount Gambier, Keilor and Camperdown have entered, along with a Bendigo Lady Braves under 18 girls’ division side.
Gray said clearer pathways, including the introduction of a Warrnambool Seahawks’ development-focused side in the Country Basketball League, would keep teenagers from being lost to the sport.
He said this was reflected in the Seaside Junior Classic entrants at under 18 level.
Seven under 18 boys’ sides and six under 18 girls’ sides have registered.
“I would say the highlight of this competition is the strength of the under 18 competition, both boys and girls,” Gray said.
“We have a wider range of competition. Bendigo is a very strong side and Warrnambool’s under 18s are future Seahawks and Mermaids as well.
“We have the CBL (Country Basketball League) to focus on the younger ages.”
Seventeen teams have entered the under 14 boys’ competition, spread across three divisions.
Gray said most age groups at the tournament were split into divisions.
“It gives teams opportunities to taste success at different levels depending on skill and ability,” he said.
“There are lots of country Victoria representative kids playing so the standard should be quite high.”
Seahawks junior squad co-ordinator Craig McLeod said the tournament, which runs a week after Millicent’s annual competition, was a major drawcard.
“It’s written on everyone’s calendar each year,” McLeod said.
“We started in Millicent last week but in Victoria we are the start of squad season. Maryborough has one the same weekend as well.”
The Seaside Junior Classic tips off at 8.30am on Saturday with the under 18 boys’ grand final the final game at 5pm on Sunday.