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Staying on the Court: CCA Travel Basketball Moves Ahead Despite Setbacks

For about 3 years now, Conway Central Area Travel Basketball and The Sanneh Foundation have been partnering to provide local youth with a rewarding and developmental basketball experience. Unfortunately, recent setbacks have hit the team. Unique circumstances including the loss of the Conway gym to the Learning Hub, the expense of tournaments, and the increased financial burden on players’ families, have made this a difficult season. But Director Dennis Blue and Coach Mark Tracy are pushing past the obstacles, going above and beyond to support their team despite the recent challenges.

According to Dennis Blue, Director of Youth Travel Basketball, travel basketball is typically played at a higher level than other leagues. Dennis started the travel team because he wanted to give youth in the city the experience of traveling throughout the greater metro area to play in competitive tournaments. He considers it a disservice for youth to not have the opportunity to play competitively because it limits their hopes of playing successfully in high school and beyond. The partnership between The Sanneh Foundation and CCA Basketball has been critical to furthering Dennis’ mission of supporting St. Paul youth.

Like many youth sports organizations, CCA has experienced hardship.

Because of COVID-19 and financial challenges the team will only play 5 tournaments (or a total of 15-18 games). But, Dennis makes clear that “we are committed to keeping our costs reasonable” and not asking players’ families to pay more. “We don’t want to put more hardship on our parents,” Dennis explains. While COVID has also led to two of their main sponsorship sources drying up, the team is not disheartened. They’ve chosen to move ahead, continuing with the basketball season and starting a gofundme page for their expenses.

The importance of CCA can not be overstated. The team doesn’t just provide a space for youth to play a sport, it is also a home for youth to thrive as community members. One of the principal aims of CCA basketball, according to Assistant Coach Mark Tracy, is to build confidence, commitment, and discipline. Mark and Dennis take coaching seriously, making clear to their players that wearing a CCA jersey is a privilege, not a right. “I came in and watched them practice last year…I saw a lot of adults passionately teaching basketball—and youths were listening,” says Coach Mark. Seeing the commitment shown by both the volunteer coaches and the players spurred Mark to get involved. Mark believes CCA basketball is helping youth through this pandemic, he says “kids now don’t go to school because of COVID. They have more free time, [which] probably means more video games which leads to more disengagement…Youth sports is critical to keeping them connected to their friends and staying physically active and healthy.”

So, what’s next for CCA?

Dennis and Mark are hopeful for the future. CCA has 3 boys teams, grades 6th-8th, and 2 girls teams, 6th & 8th grade. In the future CCA hopes to expand their teams to include 4th grade and up. They also aim to conduct free clinics for youth ages 10 and up to prepare them for travel basketball. Dennis and Mark expressed their thankfulness for the support of Sanneh, they wish to strengthen and increase their partnership with the foundation. The Sanneh Foundation hopes you will support their cause and fundraiser.