This is part of a series on West Chester entrepreneurs. Know someone that’s taking an innovative approach to the mantra, “Follow your dream?” I’d love to share their story. Thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for making this expanded content possible.
Growing up in basketball-obsessed Indiana, I have played my fair share of summer basketball. Evenings spent shooting until you lost the light. Games so sweaty you had to be careful not to lose footing jockeying for position – whisked away down a slide of perspiration. I still remember the sheer joy of an exhausted win and the reward of an ice-cold Snapple and stillness.
For the last several summers, Jarrett Muzi drove his boys to Malvern one to two nights a week so they could take part in the Great Valley Basketball League and maybe capture a little of that summer magic.
“It is this awesome summer basketball program,” Jarrett said of the popular youth program that fielded 60 teams from first to 12th grade last year.
“I would really like to do this in West Chester,” he says. “It’s something needed here.” And Jarrett would know. Not only is he a middle school teacher for West Chester Area School District and a father of three basketball fans, but he also coaches Henderson’s Freshman basketball team.
While West Chester does have a couple of other summer basketball options – the Melton Center has long run a program on its Market Street courts and Westtown school also has a league – each takes a slightly different approach than what Jarrett envisions.
“There are some small things, but there just wasn’t this. I wanted to make a league, especially for the younger grades, first and second,” he said.
Building a League
So, Jarrett formed a nonprofit, recruited Jaime Blumenthal, a Physical Education teacher and coach with the Chichester School District, to serve as co-founder and co-director, and began planning. Starting with, just what was it about that Great Valley league that lured him into his car on sticky summer evenings for the last two years?
For Jarrett, much of what appealed to him was the league’s balance between learning, fun, and community.
“It’s meant to be fun basketball,” he said. “It is supposed to be a little more relaxed, but you are supposed to get better.”
With the goals solid, it was time to start building. “I thought about the best way to organize it.” Like the Great Valley league, he wants it open to kids first through 12th grade (right now it is open to boys 1st-12th and girls 3rd to 8th). There will be one practice, two at most. And the skill level of each team should be even – at least to the best of their ability.
“No one wants to win by 30. No one wants to lose by 30. It’s never going to be perfect, but we are trying to make good teams,” Jarret said. In late April, the league held a one-night tryout for each division. Unlike some other leagues there is no draft. Instead, Jarrett and his team ranked the players and placed them by skill level. Where possible, friend requests were considered.
“We tried to honor all requests, as long as it didn’t hurt the integrity of the league, but it’s definitely the hardest part,” Jarrett said of the 250 to 300 emails he received championing requests. (This was in addition to those made via the signup form which also included a place for friend requests.)
Park and Play
The games will be played in the evenings at East Goshen Park. Jarret reviewed other locations, but thinks he’s found a good fit in East Goshen.
“They were great. They promoted for us. [East Goshen Director of Parks and Recreation] Jason Lang was super supportive. I think he is someone that understands the value,” Jarrett said.
In keeping it close to the community, the teams are coached by parent volunteers. (Full disclosure: my two boys are playing this season, and my husband is coaching.) Jarrett is also looking to get his former student players involved, maybe as refs and scorekeepers or in the future as coaches.
“It’s a way for them to earn a little bit of an income while being around basketball and building a sense of pride in the community,” he said.
Ready, Set for Summer
In just its first year, West Chester Hoops has 528 kids registered. With teams set and coaches assigned, all that is left is to get on the court and see how it runs.
“It’s going to take time,” Jarrett said as if trying to pace himself. “I usually think a few steps ahead. I am always thinking about ideas for the future.” And ideas he does have. This week’s games will kick off with an appearance by retired NBA ref Joey Crawford. There are plans for onsite food trucks and a charity game against Great Valley… but no matter what’s going on the outside or how many kids are signed up – the metrics for success are something much more basic.
“I hope the kids get to meet some new friends,” said Jarret. “I want it to be community-building, friendship-building. I’m a father and a teacher in this district. I have more of a stake in this than most. I want this to be great for my kids and my kids’ friends.”
And if a couple of thoroughly exhausted kids get piled into the back of the car with an ice-cold drink and stories of the plays that were (or should have been), that’s a good sign too.
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