Education

Pint-size ballers hit the Merced court after parents ask for more activities

Merced's mini-March Madness

Merced fifth- and sixth-graders get to compete on the court thanks to a program parents were asking for, school officials said Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Thaddeus Miller/tmiller@mercedsunstar.com)
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Merced fifth- and sixth-graders get to compete on the court thanks to a program parents were asking for, school officials said Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Thaddeus Miller/tmiller@mercedsunstar.com)

The position “small forward” took on new meaning this week as hundreds of pint-size fifth- and sixth-graders took to the hardwood for a sort of mini-March Madness tourney.

The Merced City School District is in its second year of its March Madness Basketball Tournament, a play on the college-level hoops tournament set to be held later this month. After-school activities involving sports have been in demand by students and parents, according to Sara Sandrik, the district’s public information officer.

Before the initiative, students generally had to wait until junior high to play on a competitive team, Sandrik noted. In recent years, parents at Local Control and Accountability Plan meetings started asking for more opportunities for their younger children.

Those meetings are a place for parents to have more input on where tax dollars get spent at schools, Sandrik said, which gives the school some flexibility.

It allowed us to have the equipment and staffing to do something like this to serve the health and wellness of our students.

Sara Sandrik, Merced City School District’s public information officer

“It allowed us to have the equipment and staffing to do something like this to serve the health and wellness of our students,” Sandrik said.

The tournament continued Wednesday at Hoover Middle School, where teams of four faced off in half-court hoops. Eleven different elementary schools rounded up about 200 players for the 28 teams of students in good academic standing, she said.

The teams, which don’t cut any players like a high school team would, help give students confidence and a feeling of success, according to Marcia-Marie Rosson, a learning director at John Muir Elementary.

“Our kids are so excited every single time,” she said. “It’s amazing for them to get to experience this ... a chance to get competitive.”

Rosson knows something about competition and teamwork. She coached for 10 years at Merced High and was an athlete before that.

Our kids are so excited every single time. It’s amazing for them to get to experience this ... a chance to get competitive.

Marcia-Marie Rosson, a learning director at John Muir Elementary

It’s also good for parents because they might be more apt to come to watch hoops or soccer than to visit a classroom, she said, and that gets the parents involved. Late last year, many students were part of the MC Cup, the district’s version of World Cup soccer.

One sixth-grader passing the rock around with his Trailblazer teammates was Malaki Leach. The 12-year-old with bleached honey badger-styled hair said his best asset on the court is his shooting.

Malaki said he’d like to be the next LeBron James and some day play small forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I want to make it somewhere in life,” he said.

But, then again, Malaki said he’s really better at football. So maybe he’ll just be the next Marshawn Lynch, former running back for the Seattle Seahawks.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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