695HOOPS WHERE IT'S ALWAYS ALL ABOUT THE GIRLS
Carolyn Leach took on the task of managing the Maryland Amatuer Athletic Union girls basketball district in 2012. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for 695Hoops.com. Participation has declined in Maryland and across the country, and Ms. Leach explained how she plans to improve the district and what challenges she faces.
695: How did you get involved with girls basketball?
Carolyn: I was a pretty decent high school basketball player and played one year of AAU basketball for Flag House many moons ago. I’ve always had a love for basketball period,high school, college, and NBA.
695: Where you have coached?
Carolyn: I have coached elementary and middle school basketball at North Bend, rec basketball at EDRECO and Catonsville, as well as AAU basketball for Baltimore’s Charm and Baltimore Lady Panthers.
695: How did you get involved on the AAU side of things?
Carolyn: I have been involved with MD AAU Girls’ basketball since about 1997 with my brother in law, Sam Walker who coached Freeplay Magic, MD Waves, and Baltimore’s Charm. I was appointed as the District Sports Director in January 2012 after serving as an assistant to my predecessor, Phil Holloway for a few years after his illness.
695: When I first started coaching I remember the excitement that was generated around district in the spring. It seems like we had plenty of participation. Why do you think participation has declined?
Carolyn: Well, for several reasons, back then AAU teams consisted of the best of the best talent and it was very competitive to make an AAU team. Now there’s a program/team on every corner and they typically don’t travel and don’t feel a need to participate. Many teams participated because of the desire to play in the AAU National tournament which was a major accomplishment. Now that any team can participate at Nationals, along with the cost associated, teams don’t participate as much which means there is no need for them to qualify at the district level. Also, many of our players have opted to play for “elite” teams that do not participate in AAU tournaments and participate in showcase events instead.
695: A lot of people have the perception that MD AAU has been corrupted by a few organizations monopolizing it as their own fundraising tournament? Address that issue. Why haven't more organizations hosted the games?
Carolyn: There is a district meeting each February that is open to all organizations. At that time, the invitation to host a site is presented and every organization who meets the requirements is welcomed the opportunity to apply. However, it is the same organizations each year that submit their interest and facility contracts. With that said, there is no monopoly and for any organization who wishes to host a site there is an opportunity, as long as it makes sense logistically.
695. Talk about the challenges of getting quality facilities for the tournament...
Carolyn: One of the major challenges is cost, as well as scheduling conflicts, insurance, and equipment in the public school systems. Some of the private schools may rent at a steep price as long as there is no scheduling conflict but that’s rare. This is the only area that I have ever seen where the school systems aren’t delighted to oblige for the sake of the community and our youth.
695: What other challenges have you faced as the MD district director (or your correct title)?
Carolyn: One of the major challenges that I have faced backlash about is my role as the MD District Sports Director (DSD) while serving and coaching with the organization that I co-founded. What many people that have been limited to this area may not know is, EVERY DSD in all 46 districts are Directors or otherwise affiliated with an organization. Nobody just walks off the street and says I want to be a DSD; it comes with your involvement with the sport. (Ex: Boo Williams-Boo Williams (VA), Matt Williams-Jam On It Sports (NV) -(National Co-Directors for Girls Basketball), Mike Flynn-Philly Belles (PA), Charlie Domino, National Executive Committee-Dominoes (LA), Talise Morris, National Executive Committee-NC Flames (NC), Tiffany Washington-Havoc City (PV), Ricky Oliver, National Executive Committee-New England Lady Panthers (NE), Kim Davis-Powell, National Executive Committee-Essence (FL) ……to name a few DSD’s. Not to mention, my very own predecessor, Phil Holloway-MD Hurricanes.
The challenge that I face that really matters is trying to keep our athletes playing the MD District. Many of our athletes play in the Potomac Valley and Mid-Atlantic District due to the perceived Elite programs. I, along with like minded coaches and organizations in our district have to find a creative way to appeal to our athletes in an effort to keep them in our own district. Perhaps organizations need to recruit coaches that are fundamentally sound, and know how to teach the game of basketball.
695: Talk about some of the big changes you are planning with the state qualifier tournament...
Carolyn:One of the major changes that will take place is the high school division of the District Qualifier will be operated as a Division II and III Showcase with college coaches invited. This event will take place under one roof this year at the Meadowbrook Sports Complex. Some of the games will also be live streamed and the tournament will also serve as a national AAU Power Ranking event with writer on hand as well. The biggest twist to the showcase is that teams from other districts may participate and MD District teams will be ranked collaboratively and separately. There are also some incentives planned that will be discussed at the District Meeting on February 15, 2015, 2:00 p.m.
695: What other initiatives do you want to get MD AAU involved with?
Carolyn: Clinics –Coaches/Players; Leagues, Tournaments; Partnerships with local parks and recreation departments; Book Scholarships for graduating AAU members; NBA/WNBA Cares; Community Service Opportunities; and Under Armour Grassroots Community Program (discounted team merchandise)…to name a few.
695: How does the Maryland district stack up against other districts as far as participation?
Carolyn: Participation has declined nationwide. Some districts don’t even field enough teams to have a district qualifier. Thank God it hasn’t gotten to that point in the MD District. The MD District has declined at a rate of about 6-8% per year whereas many districts have declined at a rate of more than 15-20% per year. Research conducted by the girls’ basketball National Chairs has concluded that girls are opting for other sports such as AAU club volleyball which has increased membership by 44% over the past two years; AAU club lacrosse which is new to many districts, AAU swimming, and AAU tennis.
695: Thanks for your time.
Carolyn: Thank you.
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