Denzel Guillen gets ready to shoot a free throw.
By KATIE MORRISON
One of my favorite events of the year is the Lynn Elementary School Basketball Tournament. It may be because I’m a sucker for cute kids playing sports, especially when that comes in the form of a peanut-sized fourth-grader using all the strength she can muster to hit the backboard. But that’s not all of it.
I have to give due recognition to tournament organizer Sean Morris and the rest of the staff and coaches that make the tournament run. The first time I covered the event last year, I was shocked at how smoothly everything ran. Any tournament that size (with 32 teams) is bound to have its hiccups. But if it says on the schedule a game will start at 5:15, you better believe tip-off is going to be at 5:15. There are uniforms with names and numbers, and even — this is my favorite part, as a photographer — full rosters for every team. I cannot stress how rare that is. Even high school teams struggle to assemble an up-to-date roster for a game at times.
And then there are the games themselves. Some are blowouts; some teams struggle to even score a basket. But there are plenty of tight contests. I watched one of those Wednesday evening, as the Washington boys beat Shoemaker, 25-23. I love how into the game the fans, players and coaches were. You would have thought you were watching a high school tournament game, just in a smaller gym with less people and pocket-sized players.
Washington held the advantage for most of the game, but Shoemaker clawed back into it, taking the lead as time was winding down in the second half. But free throws from Donel Kabongo and Denzell Guillen iced the victory for Washington.
The tournament is special because it brings people from all over the city together to watch games that are competitive, yet fun for both teams, winners and losers. It’s not always the best basketball; I’ve seen more jump balls and kids wrestling on the ground for possession in the first few days of the tournament than I saw all of the high school season, but it’s a really fun brand of basketball that’s entertaining for everyone. If you’re around Pickering Middle School over the next few days, it’s worth it to stop in and watch a game or two. They go pretty quick, even with the 20-minute halves, and admission is only a dollar. And chances are, especially as the field narrows and the stronger teams start clashing, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.
Congratulations to Paris Wilkey for earning Northeastern Conference co-Player of the Year honors, along with Revere’s Valentina Pepic. I was thrilled not only that Wilkey was recognized for her efforts, but also that her teammates, Soneta Srey and Jeylly Medrano, as well as English’s Dorathy Ezemba, were also named to the all-star team. All four of these girls are such fun players to watch. When Wilkey is on (and not double or triple-teamed), she can take over a game. The same goes for Ezemba, who is just an all-around tough player. She was a force for the Bulldogs this year. Medrano is a strong point guard for Classical with a lot of talent.
But I really want to talk about the only senior in that group, Srey. She’s been so much fun to watch over the past couple of years. She’s one of the scrappiest players I’ve seen, always diving for loose balls and playing lockdown defense. Srey isn’t one of the most naturally talented shooters, but she’s so athletic, it doesn’t matter. She drives through the paint and gets to the hoop. And if you’ve ever seen her play volleyball, you know that even though she’s not tall, she can compete with anyone for rebounds thanks to her jumping abilities. Srey is always all smiles; she looks like she’s having a great time on the court. And that makes her so much fun to watch.
The beginning of the spring season has to be a challenging time for coaches. The games are coming up quick; many baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and track teams play the first week of April. And the majority of those teams will only have maybe a week of outdoor practices under their belts by then. Coaches can work on fundamentals and conditioning while cooped up inside, but for baseball and softball especially, you just can’t replicate being outside.
For example, at English, baseball coach Joe Caponigro was itching to get on the field to work on fly balls, since it’s impossible to track them in the gym. At Tech, the softball team has to split the gym with track, meaning that it can’t set up a batting cage or find a good spot for pitchers to practice.
But then again, most schools in the area are dealing with the same issues. It might take a while for these teams to find their rhythm once the season starts.