Wooster Rec youth basketball program marks 45 years

Wooster Rec youth basketball program marks 45 years

The Wooster Recreation Department youth basketball program that started with eight teams in 1974 has grown into one that now includes 120 boys and girls teams throughout the area with around 1,200 boys and girls grade 3-6 playing.


This basketball season marks 45 years for the Wooster Recreation Department’s youth basketball program.

The program started in 1974 as a replacement option for elementary school boys when local schools cut their intramural teams.

The program that started with eight teams of Wooster sixth-graders in 1974 has grown into one that now includes 120 boys and girls teams throughout the area with around 1,200 boys and girls grade 3-6 playing. Hundreds of people volunteer their time as coaches. Recreation Department office supervisor Ashley Hershberger lends advanced administrative support to the program while Keely Dreher performs the day-to-day operations.

Approximately 80 paid officials and scorekeepers round out the league.

“We instruct kids who are anywhere from having never touched a ball to players who are also on traveling teams,” said Sue Skeens, recreation program coordinator.

The youth basketball program was started by retired Recreation Department director Chuck Malta.

“We saw a need in the community and thought we could step in where the schools had to abandon their leagues,” Malta said.

Malta said the beginnings of the program were pretty bare-boned.

“We had a lot of trouble finding gyms we could practice and play in,” Malta said. “This was pretty much the case until the new high school with the Gault Recreation Center facility was built. Then the program exploded.”

Now on Saturdays games are played on the six GRC courts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with some additional games played at Cornerstone and Wooster Township schools.

Malta said the Recreation Department’s Larry Miller also was greatly instrumental in the program over many years of service. Malta and Miller were recognized this year for their dedication to the program.

Growing over the years, a major change in the program came about in the 1980s with the addition of a girls program.

“(Former area head coach) Mark Alberts, Sr.’s daughter Marcie was coming through school, and she was so good we decided we either put her on a boys team or start a separate league for girls. We started the girls program and never looked back,” Malta said.

The program has grown to include teams from 14 Wayne County schools today.

“Triway was the first, and then the word got out about our program over the years and we grew through phases,” Malta said.

The program now even has teams from Hiland and West Holmes, in addition to the Wayne County schools.

“They’ve heard about our reputation and want to be a part of it,” Skeens said.

Skeens said one change that has happened over recent years is the change in philosophy from purely a competitive focus to one that is just as oriented to sportsmanship.

“We used to just give participation awards to everyone,” Skeens said. “Now we have the officials and scorekeepers identify players exhibiting good sportsmanship, and we give them awards for that.”

Skeens said referees have told her they’ve noticed positive changes in the players’ and coaches’ attitudes and demeanor. “This makes their behavior be more intentional on sportsmanship — something they don’t always see watching basketball on TV,” she said.

Skeens said the program’s reputation just evolved by word of mouth with the department doing very little advertising other than making information available to the schools.

Players come to the program through skills assessments and recommendations from their respective schools.

“Usually it’s the varsity coach, sometimes also with input from varsity players and other coaches who make the judgments on players’ skills levels,” Skeens said.

There is a deadline for registration in November, and coaches have a meeting in the late fall to kick off the season. Games are played from January through early March.

“We’ve had lots of great players and athletes come through our system over the years,” Skeens said.

Skeens cited a recent example being Wooster’s Marquise Blair, now an NFL player with the Seattle Seahawks who was a standout in the Recreation Department’s basketball program in his youth.

“If there’s a great high school or college player from around here, you can pretty much bet they came through our program,” Skeens said.

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