BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — The latest edition of one of the town’s fall sports staples is winding down and hoping for two more weekends of good weather. In the 20-plus years, though, that the Clifton Park Fall Basketball League has been in action, director Frank Massa cannot remember too many seasons where the league has run out of luck with Mother Nature.
“In all the years we’ve done this, we’ve only had two years where we’ve had two or more sessions get rained out,” Massa said of the league, which plays its games at the Clifton Common’s four basketball courts.
The league, which he said dates back to the early 1990s, offers opportunities for boys and girls, from second- through 12th-graders, to play some outdoor hoops in September and October. This year, just fewer than 400 players from a range of hometowns are participating in the league’s six divisions, and Massa receives help with running the league from his wife Deb Massa and Brian Miner. The five-weekend 2015 season started Sept. 12-13 and has gone off without a hitch through the first three weekends.
It helps to prepare many of its athletes for upcoming travel basketball tryouts in an easygoing environment.
“This is a way to get a basketball into their hands before tryouts,” Massa said. “We try to keep it as loose as we can. We have referees and T-shirts for [uniforms], but we keep it pretty loose.”
Players from outside of Clifton Park have always been welcome in the league, with athletes regularly coming from as far as Amsterdam and Glens Falls to play. This year, Massa said, the league received one registrant from even farther away.
“We had a parent this year who registered her kid from Clifton, New Jersey, thinking the program was held there and not here in Clifton Park,” Massa said, laughing. “We kindly refunded her money.”
The majority of the league’s players, though, have always been local. Many of the area’s top players, too, have taken advantage of the chance to get in some repetitions ahead of their more competitive seasons.
“Pretty much any of the guys or girls that have done well, [in particular] at Shen, in the last 15, 18 years, they’ve played here at some point,” Massa said.
The league, though, has always maintained its recreation-first feel. Each division is generally made up of eight teams with 10 players apiece, and that setup is by design.
“Every five minutes, we stop the game clock and send out five players, and send in five new ones,” Massa said. “Then, we play again.”
With each passing week, the playing conditions generally get a little tougher as the air turns colder. If he could, Massa said he’d extend the league’s season to closer to the start of the town’s winter recreation season — but, he said, five weeks and a mid-October endpoint is probably perfect for the league.
“It’s tough when the kids are trying to play in parkas and with snow gloves on,” he said.