Lady Storm returns in downsized league
Published 8:15 pm Saturday, August 25, 2012
By Titus Mohler
The Suffolk Lady Storm basketball team will take the court once again in September, but this time as part of a slightly downsized fall league from previous seasons.
The league name, formerly Optima Family Care Fall Basketball Program, has been changed to the Virginia Cities Fall Basketball Program. The name change denotes Optima’s now limited role.
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“I think we’re going to ask them for some monetary support to help maybe pay for the officials or for some uniforms, but they won’t provide any manpower,” Lady Storm coach Tom Lewis said. “And that used to be the big thing was the manpower and the insurance policy that they provided that we now have to get in other places like (the) Parks and Recreation Department and some other backers of the league.”
In previous years, Optima employees would teach health and safety classes to the girls on game days, and maintaining passing grades in these classes was a requirement for eligibility to play. Optima had also provided for a regional tournament at the end of the regular season that will be discontinued.
Despite these changes, the league still offers a great opportunity for girls ages 11 through 14 to play basketball in Hampton Roads. Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach will all participate in the program this year
“This program kind of leads right into the school season starting off, and so it’s kind of a little bit of a boost for the Suffolk schools,” Lewis said. “And it kind of just helps basketball in the community out as a whole.”
The Lady Storm went 2-4 last year in the regular season, but finished strong, closing out its schedule with both wins. The team went 1-2 in the regional tournament that followed.
The star of last year’s team, Harper Birdsong, will play for the varsity basketball team at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy this year, and that team’s schedule prevents her from returning to the Lady Storm.
But other players are returning, and they will be joined by five new girls. Lewis is not sure who will prove to be the standout performers, but he has some hopes.
“By just looking at practice, it’s going to be hard to tell,” he said, “but I got a couple of returning players who I’ve got high expectations for. One would be Aneka Yelverton… and the other would be Briana Autry.”
Lewis pointed out some of the things that make the league unique while identifying what he hopes he and the girls will take away from this season.
“All we have in Suffolk pretty much is rec ball or rec (leagues),” he said. “The leagues go by pretty quick, and the practice is not that intense. And so, what I typically hope to get is for the girls to get exposed to greater competition and experience.”
The Virginia Cities Fall Basketball Program should help make that possible.
“They pretty much play the best players in each of the respective cities, and so they definitely get their share of competition,” Lewis said.
The Lady Storm start their season with a triple-header in Norfolk at 10 a.m. Sept. 8 at the Norview Community Center.