LAND O'LAKES — A partnership between the Tampa Bay Rain and the Orlando Magic has brought a popular new youth basketball program to the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex.
The Tampa Bay Rain-Orlando Magic Youth League has 140 participants, a number organizers expect to increase in the spring if the county approves the program full time. The league is for players ages 7 to 16.
"We worked it out with the recreation center for this effort and I want to see how this first attempt to run the league goes and then take it to the county and see if they'll let me make it a county program," said league organizer Michael Davis. "It's a win-win for the complex, for us and for the kids and their families. I know if I do another league in the spring it'll be bigger because we won't be competing with football."
Davis moved to Land O'Lakes from Virginia six years ago and wasn't impressed with the recreational basketball offerings. With the help of his brother, Stephen Davis, owner of the Tampa Bay Rain, and representatives from the Magic, Davis was able to create a league that offers more than just on-the-court experience.
"We want this to be memorable for them," Davis said. "They get a Magic jersey, tickets to a Rain game and a Magic game as well as quality instruction from everyone, whether it comes from the referees or the coaches. It's all volunteer coaches, but we give them a curriculum that they need to go over in the practices that teaches not just how to understand things like floor spacing and ball movement, but the philosophy behind them as well."
Parents have taken a keen interest in the league, showing up in large numbers to support the kids and see the progression along the way.
"After just a couple of practices the kids really love it and are responding to the coaching," said Erin Senior, a mother of two players in the league. "The skills and the teamwork that they are learning is really great for the kids. No one is hogging the ball."
Having just moved to Land O'Lakes from Texas, Doug Charlton signed up his 9-year-old son for the league, not knowing what to expect. He has been delighted by what he's seen after just one game.
"This is our first experience with any sort of league in Florida and I have to say that it's really nice," Charlton said. "The organization is great and the coaches are teaching things that seem to be getting the best out of the kids."