HMS offers instructional league
By RANDY GONZALES
With the combining of the two local middle schools this fall to form Hays Middle School, officials identified a need for the new school's athletic programs.
With no seventh-grade sports offered except for track and field, and at the same time wanting to give as many students as possible the chance to learn fundamentals, HMS formed an instructional league for those students not on the regular, eighth-grade sports teams in volleyball and boys' and girls' basketball.
After the instructional league for volleyball, girls' basketball is going on now, and boys' basketball will start in January.
"It just gives seventh-graders an opportunity to be involved, and (also) the eighth-graders that didn't make one of the 'A' or 'B' teams," Hays Middle School principal Craig Pallister said.
Ironically, now that the middle school has started the program, Pallister said there is a chance it won't continue next year, when HMS is officially part of a new league.
Hays Middle School, Salina South, Salina Lakewood, McPherson and Great Bend have joined forces to form the West Central Athletic Conference, which will offer seventh-grade sports.
Next year, school officials will have to see if there is enough of a need to continue the instructional program, now that seventh-grade sports will be offered in volleyball, football, wrestling, basketball, cross country and track and field.
"It was necessary to get our seventh-graders more involved," Pallister said. "We will have to see next year, with seventh-grade sports being put in, if that need is still there.
"We'll run the program this year. We'll start next year, see how many kids sign up, see how many coaches we need, see if the program still needs to exist."
Lisa Schoenberger, a seventh-grader at HMS, was playing in a game Friday at the 13th Street gym located at the old Hays High School building.
She signed up to play "because it would be good experience to learn, and get ready for eighth grade."
Schoenberger has her sights on playing sports in eighth grade and high school, and the league helps.
Plus: "It's fun," she said.
That's one of the goals for her coaches, Abby Maska and Brett Jensen.
"It's been tough (learning fundamentals), but I think the girls are having a good time," said Maska, a 2001 Hays High graduate who played varsity basketball. "If they can get a lot of basketball in, between now and next year, they're going to be OK."
The league has four teams and plays a five-game schedule, plus practices. At the games, there are referees and scorekeepers -- just like for the regular teams.
"Records are not really our focus," Maska said. "Even during the game, the score is not so much the focus."
As evidence of that, in Friday's game they had a little extra time, so the teams played an additional fifth quarter.
Every player sees plenty of game action.
"We try to keep it pretty fair," said Jensen, a 2007 HHS graduate who also played varsity basketball. "Everybody's getting a lot of playing time."
The coaches have noticed their players getting better as they approach their final game, Wednesday.
"It's been fun. From Day One, watching how much the girls have progressed, it's pretty crazy," Jensen said. "Some of the girls could barely dribble when they got in here. Now, we're putting them in game situations, and they're doing pretty well."
Like Jensen, Maska also has enjoyed teaching the fundamentals to the players, some of whom never had seen a basketball game before they joined the league, she said.
"I think we wouldn't be out here coaching seventh grade girls' basketball if we didn't really enjoy the game," she said. "Even more than that, working with kids, helping them get better."