HUDSON — It's March Madness at Veterans Memorial Park, though not the college hoops kind.
Pint-size players are learning the basics of dribbling, passing and shooting at weekly Bumblebee Basketball sessions for kids ages 3 to 5. The class is set up as a series of stations throughout the gym where kids work on different skills. On one end, kids dribble through cones or learn to throw a bounce pass, and on the other end, they are shooting and playing games.
Organizer Ruth Ann Collins helps with instruction, but leaves much of the coaching up to the parents.
"The parents love it," Collins said. "There isn't much in the way of sports programs offered for kids this age, so what makes this intriguing is the parents get a taste of what it's going to be like when they put their child in a league. They've got to be committed and patient; and for the kids, having their parents teach them makes this a very comfortable situation."
This week's session was packed with more than two dozen kids and parents working on basketball basics. Collins, who developed a popular Bumblebee Soccer program last year, added basketball this year to supplement the effort.
"I couldn't do soccer all year round," she said. "Basketball was a perfect option that we could do in the gym.
"This is noncompetitive and set up just so they learn the skills of the game," she continued. "I don't want it to be stressful; they'll have plenty of time later in life to be competitive. This is just so they learn to love the game and when they go into a league at a later age they don't feel like they don't know what they're doing."
To help control the crowded gymnasium, Collins recruited the help of Rommel Walsh and his stepson, Giovanni Charles. While Charles demonstrates what the kids are supposed to do at each station, Walsh breaks it down for both the kids and the accompanying parents.
"We have it organized with them working on basic little things," Walsh said. "The biggest thing I want them to get out of it is a sense of teamwork and just knowing that there is someone else next to you doing what you're doing. They really don't grasp the fundamentals all that well at this age, so it's more about them playing together and developing a sense of camaraderie."
Walsh is a coach at the Salvation Army and a longtime basketball enthusiast. Bumblebee Basketball is his first time working with a group this size — a formidable task he finds challenging.
"I've worked with kids since I was 19, just never with a group this size," he said. "It's cool, though. They listen and you get to see them learning all the time. My 4-year-old son, Dominic, is in the class, so I'm volunteering and working with him at the same time."
While Collins' focus is on helping the kids have fun, skill building is a crucial element of what makes the program successful. Jaclyn Mello of Hudson has enjoyed seeing what her 5-year-old son, Anthony, can do.
"He's surprised me because I didn't know he was this athletic," she said. "I love it because I get to be with him while he has fun and he learns some new skills while he's in here. It's worth the $10 for sure."