by Joe Borelli on May 09, 2021 News

By Joe D’Amodio | [email protected] May 09, 2021

“The wind is always a factor,” said Blessed Sacrament parent Paul Stern with a laugh while watching his son play in the Staten Island CYO Outdoor Basketball League.

Then there’s also the rain and the occasional blinding sun in the eye of a shooter.

Welcome to youth basketball during the pandemic, which has forced Island youngsters outside this spring to play competitive basketball.

Of course, the outdoor season is all a welcome reprieve from the past 14 months when Island hoops players were idle because of the coronavirus.

A visit to Mount Loretto in Pleasant Plains Thursday night revealed most everyone — the players, coaches and yes, even the referees — were having fun.

Full-court games were being played on four courts in front of the iconic church at the Mount, and even though the games weren’t being played in the gym, the kids seemed right at home outdoors. In all, 180 teams are registered in the league.

“A lot of wind, a lot of sun and a lot of whistles,” said sixth-grade boys’ Blessed Sacrament coach Keith Erichsen of the playing conditions. “Otherwise, it’s working out okay. A real pain to get down here coming from Westerleigh, but the kids get to play and that’s the most important thing.”

There was no such wind to speak of Thursday evening, but the prior week was a different story when the wind was howling through the complex.

“I would say jump shooting is very tough, lots of layups when the wind is blowing,” said St. Charle sixth-grade coach John Higgins. “But it’s good to have the kids out here playing hard. I know my son, Nicky, is having a great time. The kids are having a great time as opposed to sitting around the house.”

“The weather has definitely been the biggest obstacle,” said CYO county coordinator Mike Neely, who said rainouts and the wind are part of the deal of playing outdoors. “When we began putting this together we told everyone, three key words — patience, flexibility and understanding.”

The number of games each night varies, but as many as 19 games took place one evening, according to Neely.

“In the future, we have 22 games in one night scheduled,” said Neely. “It’s like running an AAU tournament every night. I can’t do it without my assistant John Zarrella.”

One would think playing on the concrete would cause some nasty falls and cuts as opposed to playing inside on wood flooring but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“No, I haven’t see anything bad,” said the older Higgins. “My son also plays in the eighth-grade division. The kids are bigger and a little more physical, but it’s been fine.”

“There’s no difference from being inside,” added Erichsen.

For the most part, the outdoor games have been low-scoring, even for the eighth-grade teams.

“It’s fun,” said Nicky Higgins, still trying to catch his breath from a game his just finished, a 16-14 loss. “There was really no wind here but the jump shooting, the rims and playing on the concrete courts requires some getting used to.”

“I think for out here that is what you are going to get,” said John Higgins. “You don’t realize how tough it is to shoot outside. The perception and the double rims make it difficult. Plus, the kids are just getting back into playing again and some of them I think are a little nervous.”

Neely is ecstatic with the way the league is progressing.

“So far the cooperation has been fantastic on all levels, from, coaches, parents and the officials,” said Neely. “Our assignor, Dave Fernandez, has been diligent in working with John and myself daily as the schedule changes for one reason or another.

“The players have come up to John and myself just to say ‘thank you.’ It’s a great feeling watching these kids playing basketball.”

Of course, Neely says the outdoor loop wouldn’t be possible without the help from Borough President James Oddo, City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo (R-Mid-Island) and Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore).

“They helped us with funds and support of the CYO to make it a reality,” said Neely.