BELOIT - The Stateline Family YMCA is back with its standard offering of youth hoops this winter, with one welcome change to the program: For the first time in history, there is a girls program.
LaRon Lofton, Director of Youth Sports and Recreation at the Y, said the program has modest goals for in its first season.
"For this first year, we'd like to have four teams at each level," Lofton said. "Our league is coed until third grade, which is when our studies showed the girls just stopped participating. So we are hoping this is a great way to have girls continue to play instead of stopping in third grade."
Lofton said it's no secret the city of Beloit has struggled to consistently produce top talent at the high school level.
"Obviously when you get to the high school, they've had a lot of problems winning games," Lofton said. "We believe a big reason is that there was no youth program in place to develop players. With this getting started, now there's a place that they can come and play."
Last year was the first year the YMCA program merged with the Boys and Girls Club, and also the first time the program organized teams by school instead of randomly assigning teams. Lofton said it worked well.
"We are going to do the same thing this year," Lofton said. "We got a lot of good feedback from it. By having practices at the local school, it just makes things a lot easier, and kids get to play with their friends as well. We're going to try and do that with the girls program, too, but we're expecting that it might be difficult to have a team at every school this first year."
Registration is now open for all leagues, and runs through Dec. 8. Those interested may register online at statelineymca.org, or stop in at the new location in Beloit on 501 3rd street, or at the Roscoe branch at 9901 Main St. Games will be played on Saturdays at the Beloit Memorial High School Fieldhouse, with the season running from Jan. 13-March 24.
Cost for the program is $59 for YMCA members, and $79 for non-members. Financial assistance is available for those in need. Lofton said he's hoping the buzz from the freshly minted Ironworks YMCA will lead to increased participation.
"Our gym has been super packed since we opened the new place," Lofton said. "We're getting kids from all over coming up here and playing. So hopefully that will lead to more kids signing up for the program. We were able to have eight teams per age group last year, and that worked out great. The only one that didn't have that was the fifth and sixth grades, and even then we had six teams."
There is also a Rookies League that will begin a seven-week session January 20 for ages three to six. The games will take place at the Stateline Boys and Girls Club on Saturday mornings. Cost for members is $40 and $55 for non-members. Multiple child discounts are available for all leagues, and the YMCA is always looking for volunteers to help coach.