When the greats of Chelsea basketball are discussed, the names of Sammy Mojica Jr. come up, as well as Autumn Lopez, and of course, Cesar Castro.
All three were renowned roundballers in the city, each scoring 1,000 points for Chelsea High, and they all had one thing in common.
They got their start in the Chelsea Youth Basketball League (CYBL).
“The majority of our kids do make the high school teams,” said CYBL Vice President Yamir Rodriguez, who is also a city councillor. “We have some eighth graders in the league make the freshmen and junior varsity teams. You look at all the greats for Chelsea High School basketball, and they all came through CYBL. Whether Autumn Lopez, Cesar Castro or Sammy Mojica Jr., this league gave them their start. Was the league the reason they succeeded? Maybe or maybe not, but they’re a part of us and they come back from time to time to see how things are going.”
Things, in fact, are going pretty well, but could always be better.
The league is co-ed and hosts kids from age 5-15, with about 200 kids participating on 18 teams right now. Games take place in the Williams School on Friday (5:30-8:30 p.m.) for ages 11-15, and on Saturday mornings (9-2:30 p.m.) for ages 5-11. The league runs from January to March, with a playoff schedule as well. It is open to Chelsea residents.
The non-profit league has been around for years, probably being more than 50 years old.
City Councillor Leo Robinson was very involved for years, but passed the torch on to others, such as Rodriguez, President Michelle Lopez, Secretary Damali Vidot and Kathryn Bourgea.
“I played here when I was 10 years old,” said Rodriguez. “This was the first basketball league I ever played in. I played for three seasons and pretty much stuck around. I started helping to coach after that. I’ve been coaching basketball since I was 14 and this gave me the opportunity to do that and to be a mentor for the kids. The 5-8 year olds are the best group because they want to learn and and have fun too. It’s a great age for basketball.”
For a lot of kids, all said, organized sports or other clubs aren’t for them. Many of those kids – especially the middle schoolers – enjoy the basketball league on Friday nights. The challenge, however, is finding gym space – which comes at a premium price and inflates league costs.
“Basketball is huge for Chelsea,” said Bourgea. “I wish we had the ability to have two or three hours of open gym time for these kids. I feel the kids between 5th and 8th grade get lost in the shuffle. They really don’t have anywhere to go. By the time they get to the high school, they are on the wrong path…The kids we tend to get don’t do an other leagues outside of this.”
Said Vidot, “We hope that one day it’s possible to have our own recreation center where we don’t have to rent a gym. We can have more leagues and charge less money. We have to pay for time now, and that gets expensive.”
Coaches are also in great need now as the league gets stronger.
Being an urban city, organizers said having positive role models – both men and women – is essential to the kids in the league, just as much as someone who knows how to teach the fundamentals of the sport.
“The role model aspect is what we’re looking for and what we stress,” said Rodriguez. “You want to find someone who can be positive. A lot of the coaches do a great job mentoring the kids – especially the 5 to 8 year olds. It’s been a great balance.”
And they’re always looking for help.
“Anyone who wants to volunteer, we encourage that,” Rodriguez said. “We can use any help to make sure the kids have the best basketball experience possible. People can even come by and watch a game. On Fridays, especially, if you don’t have anything to do, come down and support the league by watching few games.”
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Photo by Joe Prezioso
Knights Coach Rob Lewis advises Moe Cromwell IV to attack the middle of the floor more during last Saturday morning’s Chelsea Youth Basketball League (CYBL) games. The long-standing youth basketball league is growing and looking for more players and coaches, league officials said.
Photos by Joe Prezioso
Warriors Coach Jose Valentin gives the players high fives before the start of the next quarter.
Damion Caban takes a practice shot and Malay Robles waits for the rebound.
The Knights, Warriors, Bulldogs and the Blue Devils stand together on Saturday morning, Jan. 16, before the start of the youth program’s matches for the 5-8 year olds. The teams will play eight periods, each lasting six minutes.
Bulldogs’ Coach Bruan Acosta gives a pep talk to his players.
Juliane Rodrigues (Bulldogs) dribbles down the court.
Coach Randy Boutros blows whistle to stop play.
Chase Collins (red) fights for the ball with Christian Colon (green).
Jayliana Conception takes the ball out.
Aaliyah Cruz, Juliana Benitez and Alyssa Bonitto take a rest and cheer on their teammates.
Councillor Yamir Rodriguez, who is vice president of the CYBL, applauds the play after making a shot.