In 2009, the number of kids participating in Haverhill youth travel basketball was diminishing.
With only 32 kids playing travel basketball at the grades 5-8 level and the high school program struggling for several years, it seemed as if basketball in Haverhill was on the brink of extinction. But with the help of Eagle-Tribune sportswriter Hector Longo, the program has more than doubled in size over the last two years.
"A friend of mine came to me and explained to me the state of basketball in the city," said Longo, who took over the program in 2009. "We just had to do something about it."
The youth basketball program, part of Merrimack Valley Youth Basketball, will have at least four teams of kids in grades 5-8 this year, with the possibility of adding a "B" team at certain levels- a prospect which was unheard of when teams had trouble getting players to just show up for practice.
The influx of new players came as a result of reaching out to other groups recruit more players. The travel basketball league talked to the Haverhill YMCA as well as the Haverhill Boys and Girls Club, each of which runs its own intramural league, to gauge interest among players about playing travel basketball.
"Once we had a few kids talking about it, more kids came to try out," said Longo. "It was tough because some kids didn't even know that the league existed."
Another hurdle that needed to be overcome was the lack of gym time throughout the city. In previous years, the program would have trouble finding a set time and location for the team to practice.
But with the help of some powerful individuals in town, the team now has more permanent digs. Superintendent James Scully arranged for the teams to practice at the Silver Hill Charter School, and athletic director Tom O'Brien secured the Haverhill High gym on Sundays for the team to play its home games.