The 13 and Under AAU traveling basketball team, Gadsden County Ballerz, returned home with fourth place honor last week from the national competition in Kissimme. The team, coached by Barry Corker, Sr., is made up of young men 13 years of age and younger and in seventh grade. Ballerzs defeated teams from Atlanta, Jacksonville, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico in the games which lasted from July 24-31.
"Over 150 teams from throughout the United States participated in the tournament. There were thousands of kids there. We played two or three games a day depending on whether we won or loss. We feel we did a great job. We would have wanted to be number one, but fourth isn't bad in a competition with so many larger cities," Corker said.
There were two standout players on this year's team. Shooting guard Tranquil Card was named to the all-tournament team and point guard Maurice Howard, Jr. placed first in the shoot around competition.
"The shooter has one minute to scores as many points as possible from various positions on the floor. At first, I didn't even know that I won. I made 32 shots in the one minute and beat out the other shooter by one point," Howard said.
The individual competition win was even sweeter for Howard because he had no time to practice. The team had only arrived in Kissimmee minutes before the competition began. Coker said Howard literally went from the travel van to the gymnasium.
"I was very nervous at first but I got the ball, started shooting, and forgot about all of the people looking," Howard said.
As a member of the all-tournament team Card was selected by coaches. After elimination round the coach on the losing team selects a player from the winning team as the best over-all player in the game.
"When the opposing coach selects a player it seems more fair because the kids know it's not personal because it's through someone's eyes who don't even know you. It's quite an honor," Coker said.
Both Card and Howard are rising eighth graders at Crossroad Academy where they are on the basketball team but have their sights set on playing in college. Howard is interested in attending Duke and Card wants to attend Kentucky. The game aside, both are bright students who make good grades.
"These kids play ball almost everyday. When they're not practicing as a team the pick up games in the neighborhood. it's fun, it teaches discipline and they keep their skills sharp," Corker said.
While the games are paramount, Corker said, the exposure team members get is equally important.
"We are a traveling team which means we participate in tournament type competitions. The kids get to see different places, interact with players from all over and learn about where other people live. Some of the players have made friends from other teams and look forward to seeing them when they play in cities like Tampa and Orlando," he said.
But travel costs money and each game will cost each player about $125 each. parents of the players are the biggest supporters and many parents travel with the team. They periodically hold fundraisers in the community to help defray costs.
Team members in addition to Card and Howard, are: Arlist Kenon, Justin Walker, Devonte Rumlin, Gehkeri Jones, Timonth Ashley, Roderick Zanders, Jr. and Barry Corker, Jr.