LAKEWOOD - It's surging through Lexington, Ky., and Auburn Hills, Mich.; it's made its way from Kansas City, Mo., all the way out to San Jose, Calif. Symptoms are even being felt in Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; and - Lakewood, N.Y?
Yes, "March Madness" is coursing through the veins of just about everyone in the country at the moment - from east coast to west - and not even our little spot in the Southern Tier is safe.
Though, on Saturday at least, the madness here was not for the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, but for one of a different sort: The fifth annual 3-on-3 March Madness Youth Basketball Tournament at the Lakewood Family YMCA.
Zack Panebianco of Jamestown, left, was just one of more than 700 players who participated in the fifth annual 3-on-3 March Madness Youth Basketball Tournament at the Lakewood Family YMCA on Saturday. See picture page on Page C-8 and see additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Reagle
And judging by the sea of colored jerseys and the general difficulty in finding space to move throughout the gym without bumping someone, this latest edition seems to have been every bit as successful as previous ones.
"It's been packed all day," Lakewood Family YMCA branch manager and event coordinator Tom Anderson said. "You've just never seen anything like this."
With more than 700 boys and girls of all ages competing on 15 different courts - simultaneously - for the better part of 12 hours, and countless more friends and family encircling those courts to hoop, holler and cheer, one's inclined to agree with Anderson that the tournament, which was put together by the aforementioned Lakewood Family YMCA and also the New York State Moose Association, is certainly a one-of-a-kind event.
"I would say that this is the biggest indoor (basketball) tournament in the state, maybe the east," Anderson continued. "Who else can do this? No one has this facility, and I've looked online (for tournaments of similar, or greater, size) and there is nothing like this one."
While the tournament in itself may be unique, the reason it draws so many participants is simple.
"It's fun," said Dylan Granger, a South Dayton resident and Pine Valley jayvee basketball player, "and we just like to play basketball."
That's why Jamestown residents Josue Gomez and Lauren Madden play; it's likely why Chautauqua Lake Lady Thunderbirds' point guard Courtney Hewes, or Jamestown's Zack Panebianco, could be seen hustling after loose balls and shooting jumpers on Saturday afternoon as well. And it's certainly why players and families made the trip all the way from places like Syracuse, Warren and Wellsville.
All in all, the event has improved with each new edition.
"The first year, I remember, it was a week before the tournament and we had about 15 teams signed up," Anderson said. "And I thought, this is going to be a disaster. But in the last few days we made it up to 57 teams, and from there it's been 100 teams, 150, 190..."
Not only are the numbers growing, but so too is the talent level of the players involved.
"There's great competition," Anderson said. "The kids are really getting a lot better. I remember two, maybe three years ago our third- and fourth-graders could hardly play. It's been amazing to see how much more skilled they've become.''
Volunteer referee Pat Anderson, who is the Jamestown Community College boys soccer coach, was also impressed by the skill of those competing.
"Overall it's actually pretty high-quality basketball," he said. "It's been very competitive, and there's a real intensity during the games. You get near the finals, and the teams want to win this thing because it means a lot to them."
That desire to play and will to win shouldn't be surprising, of course, not amongst a group infected by "March Madness."