LAHAINA - The hoop dreams of over 500 West Side boys and girls come alive on Saturday, Jan. 7, with the tip-off of the 28th season of the ever-growing, ever-pono West Maui Youth Basketball League.
Considered in many circles around the state as the leading youth basketball program in Hawaii, the 36 teams of youths ages 5-15 will take to the sparkling Lahaina Civic Center court - home of the country's top collegiate preseason tournament in the EA Sports Maui Invitational - to begin the community's most popular kids' sports endeavor.
Under the leadership of WMYBL Commissioner Don Rosenthal, who has guided the program throughout those 28 seasons, the league continues to grow and flourish to solidify the Lahainaluna High School basketball teams.
This year, the West Maui Youth Basketball League is divided into 36 teams making up the Tiny Mite (ages 5-7), Peewee (ages 8-11), Midget (ages 12-14) and Menehune (intermediate school age) divisions. Photo by Denton Johnson.
It is no secret that a major component of the success of the Lady Lunas - with seven consecutive Maui Interscholastic League titles, a state championship in 2010 and a fourth place finish last season, as well as the boys' resurgence to the top of the MIL over the last two campaigns - is directly correlated to the youth program here in Lahaina.
Rosenthal has steadfastly improved the league during his tenure to accommodate the burgeoning numbers that pushed the limits of court time and manpower required to move the program forward. He has also taken the big steps to meet the challenges of sportsmanship issues in children's athletics by initiating contact with the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS).
Hence, all coaches are certified by WMYBL and NAYS, and parents and family members of players are required to sign a code of ethics sheet before the kids can play.
"We haven't had any incidents (of unsportsmanlike conduct) for three or four years now," said Commish Rosenthal last week. "We try to look at and think of the kids' interests first; and, to tell you the truth, they are more concerned with what the post-game snack is (spam musubi or pizza?) than what the score of the game was. The focus in this league has become sportsmanship, ethics and teamwork in the game of basketball. If there is anything I could do to help develop sportsmanship, I'll do it.
"The success of this league has been a community effort with people on the staff like Steve Ashfield, Sean Gordon, Yolanda Dukes and Al Dasugo, and the support of Maui County Parks and Recreation and Jeff Anderson from the West Maui office," added Rosenthal. "We've had coaches like Al (Dasugo) and Mario Balagso that have been involved since day one, and others like Ray Lasco, Krim Kenolio, Ron Miranda, Arthur Jacinto and Gregg Vanderlaan that have been around for 15 to 20 years.
"And we couldn't have come this far without the sponsorship year in and year out from people and businesses such as Jerry Kunitomo of Lahaina Pizza Company, Jim Ward Construction, Lahaina Plumbing and Ray Michaels, UFO Parasail and Gregg Vanderlaan, and many, many others who open up their check books without hesitation to help us out. In recent years, our major sponsor has been Leilani's on the Beach and their general manager, Jason 'Stoked' Donez, who also coaches a team, and we can't thank him enough."
Games are played throughout the week and on Saturdays through early March, when the all-star games and award presentations take place.