The sights and sounds of summer basketball are alive in West Reading once again.
After a silent summer due to the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, the courts are packed again with high school and junior high basketball players racing across the recently refurbished playing surface.
The West Reading Summer League was created in 1965 to help young players develop, but it’s grown into way more than that over the decades.
It’s become a vital part of the summer landscape, and was dearly missed last year.
“Everybody is overjoyed to be back,” said Matt Heffelfinger, the co-director of the Ron Krick Memorial League for high school-aged players.
“It’s been a really successful summer,” said Ed Kuhn, the league’s founder and director. “The kids appreciated the league more this year than any other year, because they didn’t have it last year. That was a satisfying feeling, to see that.”
There was doubt about the league’s return as late as April, due to lingering coronavirus concerns. Kuhn said he received an outpouring of requests from parents who hated the thought of seeing their kids sidelined for yet another summer season.
The league required all participants to sign medical release forms, similar to those the PIAA used.
That went smoothly, as have the games.
“For 40 years, this has been the high school basketball league in Berks County,” said Exeter coach Matt Ashcroft, who once played in the league. “It’s huge for these kids to get out there and enjoy a summer, because last year everything was shut down. This is enormously important.”
Players and coaches have been delighted at the new-look courts, which feature a bright red and blue Sport Court surface. It’s made of rubber, doesn’t retain the heat, dries quicker after a rain storm and is visually pleasing.
It was completed in early June as part of the renovations that saw the addition of 10 pickelball courts at West Reading Park.
It was funded by a grant from Fromuth Racquet Sports in Spring Township and the Shields Foundation; Kuhn and others are ever grateful for the contribution.
“Everybody’s enthused (to be back),” Kuhn said. “It helps that the courts are new; everyone just loves it.”
“It’s been a lot of fun to be back,” Heffelfinger said, “and with the enhancement to the courts, it makes it that much better.”
The Pro Nelson Junior League, for younger players, was completed last month. Berks Oral Surgery won the championship. Its roster included Cole Renninger, Gov. Mifflin; William Hess, Berks Catholic; Nolan Morris, Gov. Mifflin; Bryce Gumby, St. Ignatius; Alex Collado, Muhlenberg; Max Tipton, Wyomissing; Zaron Miranda, Wilson; Riley Gray, Twin Valley; Nate Herb, Fleetwood; and Jake Neff, Wyomissing.
The team was coached by Aidan Sands and Andrew Junikiewicz, high school players at Berks Catholic.
The Krick Memorial League has 15 teams, including several Lancaster-Lebanon League schools: Warwick, Cedar Crest, Ephrata and Garden Spot.
“It’s a testament to how strong this league is, that we’re getting teams from outside the county,” said Krick Memorial League co-director Randy Hinsey.
The regular season is winding down. The playoffs begin July 27; the championship game is set for July 29.
Players don’t make every game, because they’ve got commitments with other teams and in other sports. The atmosphere is more laid back than the high school season. The focus is on player development, and giving some overlooked kids a chance to catch their coach’s eye.
The most important part of the summer league, said Berks Catholic coach Snip Esterly, is keeping kids involved and giving them an opportunity to build team chemistry.
After the constant disruptions caused by COVID last season, that’s more important than ever, Esterly said.
“The kids were itching to get back out here,” he said. “It’s great to be back —but it’s also great not to have masks on. We’re getting back to what you can call normal.”
The annual Cultural Exchange Program and All-Star games vs. Sacramento were canceled this year due to lingering COVID issues in California.
Kuhn is eagerly awaiting next year’s 50th anniversary celebration and the exchange games being played in West Reading.
“We really want to do a special job with that,” he said.