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Basketball boom: Gyms, coaches, refs in demand across Nova Scotia

Logan Mitchell (12) from the West End Steelers and Cole Harbour Rockets player Nate Deveau chase down a loose ball during a Metro Basketball Association game at the Zatzman Sportsplex on Saturday. Enrollment in minor basketball is up thanks to the recent success of the Toronto Raptors. RYAN TAPLIN - The Chronicle Herald
Logan Mitchell (12) from the West End Steelers and Cole Harbour Rockets player Nate Deveau chase down a loose ball during a Metro Basketball Association game at the Zatzman Sportsplex on Saturday. Enrollment in minor basketball is up thanks to the recent success of the Toronto Raptors. RYAN TAPLIN - The Chronicle Herald

It’s a good time to be in the sneaker business.

Basketball is booming across the province and especially in Halifax, where 22 clubs make up the Metro Basketball Association.

“We have 35 additional teams, so that’s approximately 450 extra kids. We suspected it would happen with the Raptors winning. It’s Raptor fever, basically,” said Stewart Malloy, president of MBANS. “I think people got caught up in the playoffs, the atmosphere, the mood and wanted to play basketball. It’s across all age groups, it’s not just the little kids, every single age group except Under 12 girls, for whatever reason, is way up.”

Ryan Dickison, operations manager at Basketball Nova Scotia, agrees that the Toronto Raptors winning the NBA championship last spring bumped up interest in the sport. But he suggests that the four gold medals Nova Scotia has won at nationals in the last five years and the buzz caused by Dartmouth’s Lindell Wiggington getting NBA looks also play a role.

“That’s certainly had an impact,” said Dickison, who points to enrollment numbers at the BNS Fall Academy.  Two years ago, 72 athletes took part, last year it was 186 and this fall it’s 313.  The Junior NBA program, for kids aged 5-12, saw an increase of 500 athletes last year.

The association Malloy heads has teams from Under 10 to Under 18 (“basically from Grade 3 to Grade 12”) and until this year, numbers had been fairly steady.

“It usually doesn’t grow too much.  We’ve had 330 to 345 teams for the last half a dozen years and this year we have 375,” he said. “There’s four large clubs:  SLAM, Bedford, Steelers and Dartmouth Lakers, they probably have 40 to 50 teams each year. Smaller clubs like East Preston, Prospect, Community Y, they’re probably 10 to 12 teams each year.”

Malloy says he doesn’t think kids are dropping all their other activities to focus on basketball; rather, they’re adding it to their schedule.

“Seems to me the kids are doing multiple things, they’re in dance or soccer or hockey, and now (they’re adding basketball,”) he said.

All these extra kids mean increased demand for coaches, officials and gym space, all of which present challenges.  Basketball Nova Scotia puts on courses through the year to certify coaches, but nobody is building new gyms.

 “The gyms are busting at the seams,” said Malloy.  “The Steelers, for example, have to cap the number of players they can take because there’s no additional practice times. We need new coaches, we need new referees. That’s a big challenge. When kids finish playing we need to nudge them in the area of refereeing, for people who want extra money.”

“It’s pretty hard. I think every club had challenges finding coaches.  You’re down to parent volunteers who are willing, not certified trained Basketball Canada coaches,” said Malloy, who adds that their challenges are good problems to have. “The more the merrier, for sure.”

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