After three months of hard work, the Salvation Army Rookie Basketball 3-on-3 league finished up with intense championship games at the Salvation Army gym in West Duluth on May 8. This event was the culmination of the five-week league, narrowing 28 teams down to two championship teams in each level. The Central Ballers won the grades 3-4 division and the Denfeld Hunters won for grades 5-6.
Hayden Clore is a third-grader on the victorious team. "It's fun," he said. "I like to sweat."
Kris Mallett is the director of Rookie Basketball Association, a year-round program for boys and girls. She worked as a Salvation Army officer in the past, but has a degree in sports studies and management from Bemidji State.
"I'm also the Lakeview Christian Academy girls basketball coach," Mallett said. "It's a lot of fun to see the kids get excited to work hard at something they love and the heart and the hustle that they put into coming out on the court. That's what I love about it, to see the joy in their faces when their teammates are successful and seeing them grow as a team."
Travaugh Kinney, a basketball and baseball player at the College of St. Scholastica, has been refereeing the league all year. In total, he's reffed around 251 games this past year.
"I love kids," Kinney said. "The best part of my day is when I leave CSS and come here. I get to see smiles and great basketball."
The league provides kids with not only athletic opportunities, but character ones as well. The Salvation Army puts on summer clinics where kids are taught life skills along with basketball.
"We do character training where we talk about how sports translate to life," Mallett said. "We talk about teamwork and how you react in situations where you may not agree with the referee, and someday you're gonna have to not agree with a boss and how you're gonna handle that and what consequences are there."
According to Mallett, Rookie Basketball is a valuable asset to the community.
"It's a safe outlet for kids to learn, not only basketball but character qualities that will give them long-term benefits," she said. "Hopefully we're developing kids into young people who have a lifelong love of sport, not just basketball, but athletes who want to continue playing and give their best in whatever they're doing at any given time. We want them to be young people of character who are all in no matter what they're doing."
Rookie basketball has been taking place since 1987.
"When I was in high school, there was a summer when I came in and volunteered with the summer clinics," Mallett said.
This year consisted of the 5-on-5 league from October to March and the 3-on-3 league from March to May. The cycle will finish with six weeks of clinics in the summer. Registration is now open for summer clinics at DuluthSA.org.
"There's also a kindergarten through 12th grade 3-on-3 one-day tournament called Dunkin' in Duluth on Sept. 19," Mallett said. "They come up with their own teams and play at least two games. The UMD men's and women's basketball teams volunteer their time to referee all the games."