Youth basketball league celebrates 15th anniversary
Fifteen years ago, the first Mid-America Youth Basketball Summer Kickoff Tournament began in Newton with 64 teams in a handful of gyms.
Little did founder Greg Raliegh know what he was getting into.
This year’s tournament began Friday and runs through Sunday with about 656 teams in grades 3 through 12 from 23 states and one Canadian province. About 7,000 players are expected to compete.
Games will be played as far north as Lindsborg and as far south as Haysville, east to El Dorado and west to Hutchinson.
The organization itself has grown to more than 5,000 registered teams with 400 tournaments in 20 states. Recent expansions include New Mexico and Cincinnati.
The organization has even seen its share of players go on to the pro ranks. Of last year’s Big 12 champion Kansas State women’s team, the entire starting lineup as well as a number of reserves played in MAYB tournaments.
“I didn’t expect this when I started,” Raleigh said. “We’ve grown every year. We have about 30 tournaments we organize every weekend. We somehow get it done. We have a lot of good help.”
Raleigh said he started the tournament because there were some kids who needed to play.
“I coached high school and was getting out of that,” Raleigh said.
“Like all coaches, I was stealing other coaches' ideas and felt like we could do this better. A couple of years later, we tried going outside Kansas. As we found good people, we started going further. A lot of people think you’re going to have a tournament and make all this money. Those aren’t people who do a good job running tournaments. I like to work with high school coaches the best. Our best directors are high school coaches or booster clubs.”
The tournament uses about 250 to 300 referees and about another 150 other volunteers. Raleigh’s wife handles the T-shirts, which take up a shed at his home to produce.
One thing new for this season is the participation of the Junior Railer program started by Newton High School boys’ coach Don Cameron and girls’ coach Randy Jordan. In the past, there have only been a few Newton teams competing. This year, there are seven girls’ teams and six boys’ teams covering nearly every age group.
“I think it’s just great to see that many Newton kids involved,” marketing director Brian Huxman said. “There are probably 150 kids involved. The high school girls have two teams. The high school boys have two teams. Pretty much every grade level below that is filled. That’s pretty cool to see. A lot of schools around here have been doing that for years like Hillsboro and McPherson. There’s a lot of talent around here.”
Top teams this year include the Athletes First teams from Oklahoma, which will be in the boys’ freshman-sophomore divisions. Several top girls’ teams will be in both the freshman-sophomore and junior-senior divisions including the Kansas Dream Team. A top player is Perry Ellis, a 6-foot-7 eighth grader from Wichita.
While the tournament has drawn its share of blue-chip players, Raleigh said the tournament is more for the every-day player. It has always been outside the NCAA’s summer contact period.
“A lot of those guys are in the Nike or Addidas programs,” Raleigh said. “College coaches can only watch about three weeks in the summer. That’s OK. This is for the kid who wants to play and get better. We still have all the NAIA schools and junior college coaches here — scouting services. There are very few kids that become Division I players. You have a lot of people who get caught up in all that. This is for kids who are trying to get better for their high school teams.”
Raleigh said participation remained strong this year despite higher gas prices.
“I was worried we wouldn’t have as many teams this year,” Raleigh said. “We still have a pretty strong entry. I think a lot more teams are staying closer to home. Our nationals really look like they are going to be up.”
“It’s amazing to me that we’ve found hotels for all those teams,” Huxman said. “Nearly every hotel room in Newton, Wichita, McPherson, El Dorado and Hutch are all taken. Trying to put all that together is quite a chore.”
Raleigh said one factor in MAYB’s favor is it’s affordability.
“Our entry fees are only $275 for nationals, and you aren’t going to find many other tournaments like that,” Raleigh said “We only make you stay for three days. Other tournaments may charge $500 or more and require you to stay for seven days — and that’s in places like Orlando or Vegas, where motels are a lot more expensive. You save thousands of dollars of travel.”
This year’s tournament will see a couple of new businesses hawk their wares, including Wall Monkey, which Huxman said makes “FatHead” style posters, only of youth athletes; and Game Day Sports, which has a magnetic borad which can be used by coaches to draw up plays.