Mortorelli Gym still home to Friday Night Hoops leagueThe rec league concluded its eighth season earlier this month. It is open to high school students from Superior, Duluth and the surrounding as an alternative to varsity basketball.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The University of Wisconsin-Superior will continue as the home of the Friday Night Hoops recreational basketball league for at least another season.
Harry Anderson, UWS director of campus recreation, said plans are in the works for the rec league to play at Mertz Mortorelli Gymnasium in 2014.
“We are privileged that they have chosen UW-Superior to be the host site for their league,” Anderson said. “It provides us an opportunity to help serve our community while having our local youth experience a little piece of student life here at UW-Superior.”
Anderson said the youth basketball league aligns well with his department’s mission of encouraging recreation and fostering active and healthy lifestyles.
Rick Rockwood, one of the league founders and organizers, is relieved by the university’s continued interest. Alternate venues for the league in the Superior area are nearly nonexistent.
“As I was standing there during a national anthem and looking across the gym — at the number of people in that gym—we could never get that amount of people into the middle school. There’s no way,” Rockwood said. “We either have to have it here (UWS) or it probably can’t function.”
The rec league concluded its eighth season earlier this month. It is open to high school students from Superior, Duluth and the surrounding as an alternative to varsity basketball.
Twenty-one teams participated this year. The season begins in January and ends with a league tournament in March.
For 2013, champions were named in the girls division and in two boys divisions — Class A and Class B.
The Rejects claimed the title in Class A. Almost the whole team played junior varsity basketball for Superior High School before finding a home in the Friday Night Hoops league.
“It’s really rewarding,” Rockwood said. “Granted, nobody’s going to be Lew Alcindor, but basketball is going to be a sport they can take on into the future.”
Rockwood said the league provides three things for young people in the area: a chance to play basketball under supervised conditions, a place to go with friends on a Friday night, and an opportunity to play in front of family and friends.
“If that goes away, I think there’s going to be a void,” Rockwood said.
The league had concerns about its future after the cost to reserve the UWS gym went up for 2013. Costs to rent the space had remained relatively steady, but for 2013 an assessment of about $860 was added to pay for extra custodial help.
“The costs that are in there are fine; I understand that,” Rockwood said. “They had to have a special custodian because we’ve gotten bigger. We’re like five hours a night, 225 kids; and then we have at least 800 to 1,000 people going through there every night. So it’s pretty busy, and I can understand their concern.”
Organizers worried a similar increase for 2014 would put the league’s future in jeopardy, but Rockwood said UWS has been working with the league and is close to finalizing a contract that would keep the cost for 2014 the same as this year.
“They are really supporting us to the greatest degree,” Rockwood said.
Anderson said the Friday Night Hoops league is a great program for the youth of Superior. He outlined a number of options to help keep costs down, which may lead to a few changes for the rec league in 2014.
Games will continue to be held on Fridays, Rockwood said, but the league may look at using its own announcing system and pushing back the start of the season by a week or two.
For UWS, Anderson said, the key is finding a good balance for all parties involved.
“As with any large group utilizing a facility of this nature, there are the normal challenges of wear and tear, crowd control and limiting access to the rented areas for our current students and members,” Anderson said. “First and foremost, we will always meet the needs of University priorities such as academics, athletics, and student recreation. We then strive to find a balance between University priorities and the requests of external users.”
The Friday night games have grown immensely since beginning eight years ago. Games run three courts at a time from about 6-10 p.m., and spectators pile into the bleachers to watch. Hundreds of people filter through the gym on a typical night.
“The popularity has grown over the years,” Rockwood said. “People know how to get there; they know where to park. … So a lot of the folks feel really comfortable about spending their Friday night there, which is really neat to watch.”
Admission to the games is free, and Rockwood said maintaining that standard is a priority.
“That’s my big deal because I want the grandparents, the parents, the friends,” Rockwood said. “I see a lot of grandparents.”
Current varsity basketball players also frequent the Friday night games. Rockwood said they come by whenever they can to cheer on their friends.
“They bring signs and everything, and it’s a great camaraderie,” Rockwood said.
“Then the kids in our league go and support them. That way it has worked out really well. It almost brings a tear to your eye.”
The cost to play in the rec league this season was $75 for early registration and $85 for those who register late.
For more information on the league, visit www.fridaynighthoops.org.