When Greenbrier Middle School visits Riverside High School on Dec. 3, Billy Jackson will be a very interested spectator.
Of course, his daughter Brooke plays for Greenbrier, but a lot of his girls do. You see, last January, tired of the county's girls' basketball teams lagging behind surrounding areas, Jackson decided to do something about it. He formed YSA - the Youth Sports Association - and its offshoot, the Evans Sting.
The Sting was a 13-and-under Amateur Athletic Union basketball team that spent January through August practicing, playing and - most importantly - learning the game of basketball.
Forming a traveling basketball team is not an inexpensive proposition, so to cover the cost of uniforms, road trips and other expenses, the players' parents each paid $100 and organized fund-raisers. The largest fund-raiser was operating a concession stand at McCorkle Nursery's annual plant sale. It was a huge event, and according to Jackson, put a huge dent in the cost to organize the team.
"We want to raise the level of play throughout the county," said an enthusiastic Jackson. "Hopefully this will help upgrade our high school programs.
"I had coached most of these girls over the years in recreation ball so I just thought, 'Why not?"'
The Sting played a modest first-year schedule, playing in three tournaments and basically looking for games wherever they could. At one tournament, the team suffered a 25-point loss to the Miami Waverunners. The Waverunners went on to win the 13-and-under national championship.
"They were really good, but our girls played hard," said Jackson, adding that playing a team that good was a valuable learning experience for the team.
The Sting roster is made up of girls from five different middle schools - five from Greenbrier, four from Lakeside, two from Evans, one from Lakeside and one from Augusta Christian.
Obviously there are a lot of different personalities to bring together. Jackson said one key was an addition to the team in March. Point guard Michelle Sweic moved in from Tennessee and made an immediate impact on the team. She is a good player and when she moved in, the team really started to get better.
Jackson is big on individual accolades, but doesn't really use starters. Instead, he uses a rotation, allowing each girl to play significant minutes.
Now, Jackson has even bigger plans for the Sting this year. He hopes to possibly form two teams and play in a minimum of five tournaments, including the Nationals at Disney World.
"We are trying to raise the level of play and other counties play throughout the summer," he said. "That's what we have to do to get better."
In addition to the practices and tournament play, several girls attended basketball camp at the University of Georgia. Jackson expects all the girls to be back this year in the 14-and-under division.
So, now you may understand why Billy Jackson will be a little more that a casual fan when eight of his girls suit up for the rematch between Greenbrier and Riverside. By the way, Greenbrier won the first meeting, 29-28.
(P.S. - The Sting currently practices in what is described as a "warehouse with two goals and no heat." So, if someone would be interested in donating some gym time, I'm sure they would take you up on the offer.)
Evans Sting Team Members
Tiffany Blackburn, wing, Riverside Middle
Chelsea Crawford, forward, Columbia Middle
Zori Drew, point guard, Riverside Middle
Sarah Grant, point guard, Greenbrier Middle
Brooke Jackson, guard-forward, Greenbrier Middle
Susannah Jenkins, guard, Greenbrier Middle
Rachel Josephson, guard, Riverside Middle
Megan Mazur, forward, Greenbrier Middle
Lauren Middleton, post, Evans Middle
Haley O'Byrne, post, Riverside Middle
Larri Reece, guard, Augusta Christian
Kelly Seagraves, forward, Evans Middle
Michelle Swiec, point guard, Greenbrier Middle
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