Sports

Lack of local gym space leads to long waitlist for NJB hopefuls

National Junior Basketball
Courtesy of Subu Gupta
The Foothill chapter of NJB is so popular that the local youth basketball league’s waitlist grew to more than 200 kids last year. It’s gone to a lottery system to admit new players for this season.

Months before last season tipped off, parents of children hoping to join the local Foothill chapter of National Junior Basketball played a game of their own, racing to the website the moment online registration opened.

“Last year, we reached capacity for boys in the first hour,” said Tamara Fagin, Foothill NJB board member. “People were so upset. If you had a slow internet connection, you didn’t get in.”

This year, the board is taking ISPs out of the equation. Members voted to change the registration process for new players to a lottery system, so it won’t matter if they sign up the first day (Aug. 30) or the last (Sept. 1).

“It was not the fairest process,” board member James Reilly said of how the nonprofit previously admitted newcomers. “The lottery is the right thing to do.”

While this may even the playing field – or level the court, in this case – it won’t solve the problem. There are still way more kids who want to play NJB than there is gym space to hold games and practices from late October through mid-February.

“There are more kids in the area, and they want to play basketball,” said Fagin, whose league serves Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and half of Los Altos Hills. “But there are just not enough gyms – it’s a real shame.”

More than 200 youngsters were on last year’s waitlist, according to Foothill NJB registrar Stuart Waugh. Most of them were turned away.

“The board members felt really terrible – it was really upsetting,” said Fagin, a Los Altos resident. “And it’s only getting worse.”

The waitlist grows each year, according to Fagin, who joined the board four years ago. Most of the hopefuls are boys, she noted.

“If you don’t get in as a third-grader, it’s much more difficult for boys,” said Fagin, who added that returning families who register on time are automatically accepted.

Last season the league fielded more than three times as many teams for boys than girls due to higher demand, according to Fagin. The boys program also accommodates more grade levels (3-12) than the girls (3-8).

NJB’s junior varsity (grades 9-10) and varsity (11-12) teams give boys who were cut from their high school squads another place to play, according to Reilly. Most of the players who do make their high school teams have NJB experience, he added. At Los Altos High, where Reilly serves as boys varsity assistant coach, “the last three years, over 90 percent of our (varsity) players came from NJB,” he said.

Fagin noted that the percentage is similar at the local junior highs, which further proves the impact the league has on the development of young players.

“If you’re not playing NJB at a high level, you probably won’t make the team,” she said. “You need that to qualify.”

For those kids unable to play NJB at any level due to space constraints (the league maxed out at 700 participants last year), there are few other options for playing organized basketball in the area.

“Other than Y(MCA) ball and Cupertino (Hoops), there’s really nothing,” Fagin said. “It’s so sad.”

Reilly added that Foothill NJB isn’t likely to grow until more gyms are built, unless the league can find additional time slots in existing gyms.

“We field the maximum amount of teams we can,” said the Mountain View resident, who is entering his fifth year on the board.

Fagin dreams of the Los Altos School District building a gym on the proposed 10th school site at the San Antonio Shopping Center in Mountain View, but there have been no discussions on doing so at recent district board meetings.

“There’s a real need for another gym in the area,” she said. “When they’re planning out the new school, it would be great to have a sports center/gym there.”

NJB currently rents school gyms in Los Altos at Blach Intermediate, Egan Junior High and Los Altos High; in Sunnyvale at Columbia Middle, King’s Academy, Peterson Middle and Sunnyvale Middle; and in Palo Alto at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day and Terman Middle.

The tall task of procuring spots in all of these gyms goes to Michiel Ligthart, who is among the league’s hundred-plus volunteers.

“The guy who does it is a magician,” Reilly said of gym coordinator Ligthart. “He really does a heroic job each year securing gym time and then scheduling it out for 65-70 teams. It’s a huge job, and he’s great at it.”

Registration for Foothill NJB’s returning players and their siblings is scheduled 8 a.m. Aug. 24 through 8 p.m. Aug. 28. Registration for new players is slated 8 a.m. Aug. 30 through 8 p.m. Sept. 1. To be notified when registration opens and for more information, visit njbfoothill.com and sign up for the newsletter.

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