Youth Basketball at Utica’s Recreation Center
By Cheyenne Dorsagno
Dick Miller/Mychal Harris Basketball League
Utica’s city-funded Recreation Center helps us raise our kids through making memories, building people skills, and getting active. The Rec Center hosts the youth Dick Miller/Mychal Harris basketball league comprised of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from the Utica, New Hartford, Clinton, Notre Dame, CVA, and Whitesboro school districts.
Keith Brown, Recreation Specialist, runs the nighttime show at the Rec Center, overseeing games. He said the league is an example of the community coming together for the kids. He noted the volunteer coaches: “More times than not, there’s a parent that’ll step up and say, Listen, my son or daughter plays. I want to be involved.”
The youth basketball league has a lasting impact on people, with some going from playing basketball to being a leader.
“A lot of these coaches … have also played in our league. They want to make an impact on these kids’ lives,” said Recreation Director Chet LoConti.
The community passion for youth success doesn’t stop there. The Rec Center hosted a clothing and gear fundraiser this past December; it took off after a modest request for donations on Facebook.
“We got an overwhelming amount of people that wanted to donate to the kids,” said Keith.
They received over $1,000 and about 30 coats.
Of course, the players get frustrated sometimes. They want to do well. Many community members are also invested in the kids’ playing. Especially the parents.
“We have suspended parents because of their conduct,” said Chet.
Jeannine Johnson, Recreation Assistant, dished out a surprising secret: “It’s more the mothers than the fathers.”
As the parents scream, the spectators clap, the referees whistle, and the kids’ shoes squeak against the hardwood floors. The players fight for the dribbling ball until the courtroom buzzer signals a short break for them to meet with their coaches. The room is high energy.
Youth basketball sees younger kids focus on playing and having fun while older kids get more competitive
Jeannine said that the younger kids focus on playing and having fun. Chet said that the older kids have been getting more competitive.
Franchesca LoConti, the Recreation Specialist, has contributed to the competitive spirit. She manages the Rec Center’s Facebook and Instagram, creating and sharing their new content series – “Player of the Week”.
“We choose one player from each division that stood out to us, showing good leadership skills to their teammates, good sportsmanship and hustle, also including how many points they scored,” said Franchesca.
A lot of the kids are online, so this celebrates and incentivizes them: “That’ll make that kid’s week,” said Keith.
“We do recognize all these kids,” said Chet. Rec Center staff get to know the kids, dedicating time to talk to them every day.
“They look forward to [Player of the Week] … they know they have to hold themselves to a higher standard. They come with a smile on their face,” he said.
“Their attitude this year has been better,” said Chet. After a game, the kids will run up to their coaches to ask, “Did I get it this week?!”
The Rec Center ensures that the kids know the league is a privilege, considering the kids’ grades and behavior.
During one of the final games before playoffs, one child literally offered a helping hand, picking up a competitor who had fallen to the ground on the court. Manners – check ✓
How is the Utica youth basketball league unique?
“We’re one of the longest running youth basketball programs for 35 years now, constantly having a successful and productive year,” said Franchesca.
“We still are the biggest youth basketball league from here to Syracuse,” said Chet.
“Here in Utica, it’s a melting pot … that’s what makes Utica great,” said Keith. In Utica, you can meet diverse people, and yet at the same time “none of that matters.” Basketball gives the kids an equal playing field.
“It’s bigger than basketball,” said Keith. They teach the kids life lessons and people skills like respect, teamwork, and community values.
“It’s exciting every night,” said Jeannine.
The upcoming Youth Basketball Championship games will start at the Recreation Center on February 17 at 10 AM.
About Cheyenne Dorsagno
Cheyenne Dorsagno is an Italian-American born and raised in underdog Utica, NY. She studied English at SUNY Oneonta with a minor in Professional Writing and an Editor-in-Chief role at the newspaper. Currently, Cheyenne strives to make our big world a little smaller by introducing locals to their neighbors via human-interest pieces shared on her blog, Our Neighborhood. She’s pursuing creative writing in her free time and various freelance writing in her professional time, such as by copy-writing.