CARMICHAELS – In the 22 years since the Carmichaels Elementary Center opened its doors, there have been hundreds of students who have participated in the basketball program, and a record 160 students are participating this year.
“John Menhart was the physical education teacher when the elementary center opened. He started the program here. As you know, he is now the principal in the high school,” said third-grade teacher Gary Block, who took over the program in 1994.
The current group of fourth- through sixth-graders who are playing basketball at Carmichaels compose an amazing 60 percent of all of the students in those grades.
“I am most proud of the fact that every single one of the boys and girls who are playing on our varsity teams played elementary basketball down here, every one of them,” Block said. “If you look at the seventh-graders in the next four years, they were playing down here.”
Throughout the history of the program there has not been a running tally kept of the kids who have played, but Block estimates it to be around 800. The record number this year is something of which he is very proud, he said.
Looking at the numbers it is obvious that not all of them will go on to play high school ball. Block notes that students who participate don’t do it just to learn basketball skills. It is also an opportunity to get exercise and have fun.
School board president Tom Ricco can often be seen in the bleachers at the elementary games. He has had an older daughter, Caitlyn, go through the program and a second, Micaela, who is currently playing. His son, Nicholas, the youngest of his children, will be eligible to play next year.
Ricco cheered from the stands during a recent game and afterward he shared his thoughts about the basketball program.
“It is a good way to get our students involved in physical activity,” Ricco said. “Many of them would be at home playing video games or watching television if this wasn’t an option.”
The league is coached by student volunteers in grades nine through 12 from Carmichaels Area High School. Girls coach the girls’ teams and boys coach the boys’ teams. After participating in closed practice sessions, per district policy for all sports, the coaches draft players to play on their teams.
There is no cost to participate or attend games. The school district picks up the costs associated with the program for T-shirts, referees, printing, etc. Teams are designated by the color of the shirts they are given. The league runs through the end of February, no later, so it does not interfere with the start of baseball and softball season. Despite weather, the games have to be played within this parameter, Block said.
The season culminates each year with the sixth-grade all-star games held before the annual basketball game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the coaches and faculty of Carmichaels Area School District. Block said it is a fun way to cap off the elementary basketball program for the youngsters before they move on to junior high.
“We always have great turnouts for our elementary games. Many nights we outdraw the high school games in attendance,” Block said. “When you have this many kids and parents participating you have occasional problems but all-in-all, it goes pretty smoothly. For many of the players this may be their only option to ever play organized basketball.”