There are the reverberating smacks of the basketballs bouncing off the wooden floors, the squeaks of rubber soles starting and stopping in tandem, and the clanks and clatters of metal rims jarred to life by a volley of shots.

The sounds emanating from the Tisbury School gymnasium on a recent Monday night are a strong indication that the Martha's Vineyard Youth Basketball league is holding court.


And, of course, there's also the unremitting giggling.

"Come on, stay low, on your toes, let me see your pivot foot," shouts coach Jenny Rose as six young girls in purple T-shirts shuffle back and forth across the court. The girls, practicing defensive stances, slide sideways with their arms held high.

Their amusement in their awkward poses is just too much to contain. The exercise induces more than a few chuckles.

And later, when Coach Rose teaches a game of keep-away devised to train the girls how to dribble without looking at the ball, the drill quickly dissolves into organized chaos. Balls bounce here and there, and the girls give chase, their laughter carrying through this cavernous space.

For these young girls, it isn't about the fast break, the ally-oop or the no-look pass. For team purple, it's all about the basics.

"They're having fun," Coach Rose says. "It's about learning, and we're trying to introduce the game to the girls and get them interested in playing."

By most measures, the formula is working.

The Vineyard youth basketball program, now in its 12th season, has a combined roster of more than 350 boys and girls from third through eighth grades. Participation in the program has almost quadrupled since its inception.


The grassroots program is run and coordinated by a host of volunteers who do everything from evaluating players' skills to setting schedules to coaching the teams.

Mary MacDonald, head coach of the high school girls' basketball team, was the main impetus and ran the league for eight years.

"It's all about having fun," she says. "Our goal was to provide an avenue for kids to play basketball while teaching them the fundamentals."

The 20 teams are separated by age into three leagues: grades third and fourth, fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth. With the exception of the older league, no statistics are recorded and no score is kept. Coaches act as referees, and at the awards ceremony in February, every player is recognized.

Forget what Vince Lombardi said. In this league, winning is simply not the objective, says Ms. MacDonald.

But proper shooting form?

That's vital, she says. "We found kids never learned the right way to shoot a ball. So with the young kids, we lower the rims to eight feet so they can learn the correct technique. That's one of the things we try to address," she adds.


"To see these kids develop the skills and the friendships is so rewarding," Lisa Stewart, the program's current coordinator, points out. "It is amazing to see these fundamental game skills open up."

The season runs from December through February, and most teams practice and play only once a week on Saturdays. Kids in the seventh and eighth grades adhere to a slightly more grueling practice schedule: twice a week. The games are played in the various elementary school gyms and at the boys' and girls' club in Edgartown. Every child in Island schools is eligible.

Another pay-off from the league is that it's fed some skilled players into the high school teams. Some of last year's graduating seniors played youth hoops in the program's first season back in 1993.

"I had girls I coached from third grade until their senior years, and it was incredible to be able to watch their progress," Coach MacDonald says. "I was also lucky coming to the high school to coach when I did, because I have really reaped the benefits of the program."

Mrs. Stewart emphasizes the important contributions of the volunteers, who spend many hours with the kids. Several high school students who have gone through the program are even coaches now, she says.

"The goal is to get the kids to enjoy the sport, and for them to come back and coach, it says a lot," she says.

As an instructional league, violations of the normal rules and regulations of basketball are often overlooked. Fouls are committed, and basic canons of the game are broken. On this night, there is no shortage of double-dribbling, traveling and up-and-down infractions.


Oak Bluffs fifth grader Rilla Hammett is still learning the ropes when it comes to dribbling. She can bounce the ball, but the truly hard part is trying to keep her eye focused on her assigned target: her teammates. As soon as she looks up, the ball goes skidding away.

Audrey Hoyle, a fourth grader from West Tisbury, seems frustrated by the ball-handling and keeps peeking at the hoop instead. What she really likes is to shoot the ball, and as the only fourth grader playing in the fifth and sixth grade league, she is a natural at it. Later in practice, she dominates a game similar to horse.

Collette Jordan of Edgartown looks like she wants to run, and she smiles when the team practices wind-sprints up and down the court, one of the only times the giggling quiets down.

"Good passes, good passes," Coach Rose says toward the end of practice as the girls wind and weave down the court, heaving the ball to each other in figure eight patterns. "Make sure you make good passes."

Positive reinforcement is the name of the game here, and Coach Rose obliges generously.

"The most important thing for me is that the kids learn the fundamentals of the game - the dribbling, passing and defense - and have fun doing it," she says as the girls begin a shoot around. "That's really what this is all about."

Judging by the smiles and the laughter - at their shots, made or missed - the girls aren't missing their coach's main message.