When the excited classroom chatter at Scotland High School begins, it’s a tell-tale sign that a local basketball tradition going strong for nearly 25 years has begun again.
Founded by Jim Kirby in the late 70’s, the Scotland County Boy Basketball Church League has given high school students aged 14-18 a chance to take the court in a competitive but good-natured basketball environment. And just last week at McColl Pentecostal Holiness Church in McColl, S.C., the league (featuring five teams comprised of church-going teenagers) got underway and will continue to run through the beginning of February.
And with that, several familiar faces from the Fighting Scots’ fall sports schedule have found another athletic avenue to occupy their free-time.
“I started three years ago because I wanted to do something fun after the football season ended,” said Scotland senior and inside linebacker Chris Moss, who suits up for the New Hope Baptist Church squad. The team also includes fellow football teammates Ryan Leak, Josh McPhatter, Tyron Jones, Garret Best and Tristan Strong, and is coached by Kirby.
“We talk about it in class the night of a game, and more importantly it gives me another chance to do something with these guys before the school year ends. With all of us going off to college, I want to take advantage of every moment with my friends as I can,” he said.
But most importantly, the league has remained true to an adage that helped inspire Kirby to create it: Anyone can play. Kids who normally wouldn’t see the court can be seen fighting for rebounds and taking uncontested jumpers while fans, teammates and loved ones cheer from the sidelines.
This year’s league features more than 150 kids from Scotland County. And for New Hope assistant coach Lee Chavis, the league serves as a way to not just teach newcomers the fundamentals of basketball, but a chance to divert their attention away from peer pressure.
“With this league, you got more than a hundred kids that aren’t in our streets doing something illegal,” said Chavis, who spent two seasons with the basketball Fighting Scots in the early 70’s. “You can show them how to play basketball and help them stay out of trouble. It’s definitely worth doing as both a player and coach.”
After a pre-game prayer by Kirby, a game between New Hope Baptist and McColl Pentecostal took place Thursday evening. New Hope would win in decisive fashion by a score of 54-27, in a game that saw former Scotland student Storm Davis notch a game-high 15 points, Jones add 11 points and Leak score nine points, with the latter recording all of his in the third quarter. Leading scorer for McColl was Alijauan McLain, who scored seven of his 13 points in the second quarter alone.
Yet, the starting lineups for both New Hope and McColl Pentecostal would often take a seat on the bench while their fellow teammates got a chance to showcase their skills.
Seizing the moment in the second quarter was New Hope’s Davonte Monroe, who scored five points including a three-pointer that saw the forward drive the length of the court and sink a jumper from the top of the key.
And in the final minutes of the game, McColl Pentecostal’s Tyler Clark entered the game and recorded a steal before being fouled at the three-point line, giving the guard a chance at three free-throws. He would knock down one of them, but on his final miss teammate Rashad Eady was there to clean up the rebound and record an easy lay-up.
After each week of games (which occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays), player stats are tallied and posted for participants to glimpse, and a single-elimination tournament deciding the league champions will be played the first week of February.
But even with winners and losers being determined, a common theme prevails in every game: Having fun.
“For me it’s a great experience, and while we like to compete it’s more about having a good time out there,” said Leak, an all-conference Scotland cornerback who is competing in the league for the very first time. “It reminds me of football in a way, because a lot of us are together as a team again and it makes me feel that same fellowship.”