Each year to orchestrate her rec basketball league, Margo Yates takes on a list of scheduling accommodation requests that would put any scouting report to shame.
Of the 61 teams in grades three through six, not one was without stipulations as to how it should be scheduled.
The league, simply titled “Marion Basketball League,” meets each Saturday, with the first games being played this past week. It will go until Feb. 13.
Teams from 16 towns, including Marion, have squads that compete. Apparently the demand in the region for youth basketball is high, and Yates has seized control by putting on a simple, well-run operation.
“They have to start somewhere,” Yates said. “It puts them behind to wait until they’re in middle school.”
The rules are simple enough, with fifth and sixth graders playing two 20-minute halves, wherein the clock stops only for timeouts or other significant stoppages; third and fourth graders play 15-minute halves of a similar nature.
Teams come from as far as Salina to play in Marion’s three gymnasiums, at elementary and middle schools as well as Sports and Aquatic Center. The league is in its 12th year.
“I got out a state map and drew a circle within an hour of Marion and started calling up schools and asking what they had,” she said. “I didn’t really promote the league. They found us.”
While Yates does most of the organizing and scheduling herself, she can’t possibly supervise three gyms at once, so referee Russ Cain supervises at Sports and Aquatic Center and USD 408 school board vice president Jan Helmer supervises at Marion Middle School.
Yates purposefully doesn’t offer concessions at any of the three gyms, instead encouraging teams to stop at local restaurants for food and refreshments.
She said she got the idea because she lives south of town, and she used to see “three or four vans full” of kids leaving Marion to drive to Newton for recreational sports.
“I think it’s economic development,” she said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’”
In becoming a go-to league for kids all across the region, Yates saw her commitment as an advantage.
“Nobody’s crazy enough to spend all these hours in the gym for two-and-a-half months,” she said.
She also had inspiration growing up that instilled in her a love of basketball. Her older brother-in-law was Dave Leach, who played basketball for Wichita State.
“They had all these games where those guys would just manage to win in the last couple seconds,” she said. “It was so cool.”
She said she herself played “a little bit” in high school, but eventually her commitments as editor of the high school newspaper and yearbook won over her time.
Saturday’s action finished with a flourish, as Hillsboro’s fifth-grade girls, winners of a 9-8 defensive struggle over Chase County, fell to Marion’s fifth graders 22-8.
Yates said there were no behavior issues or conflicts, ushering in the start to a promising campaign.
“It’s a good sign of a good year,” she said. “I’m glad they come over here, and that we can have ‘em play.”