By BRIAN JENNINGS
There is a new face in the world of Southington youth basketball, and his name is Mike DeFeo. DeFeo stepped in as the new president of the Southington Youth Basketball Association (SYBA) last April after 25 years of service from Bill Cekovsky.
“I’m very passionate about the game of basketball,” said DeFeo.” I’m looking to change the mindset of the game of basketball in the town of Southington, and change the culture at the same time.”
From running the concession stands to raising funds to offset league expenses, Cekovsky spent his time with the SYBA organizing the recreation leagues, travel programs, and college games. He also took kids to college games.
“I’ve been involved with the league for about 20 years now, working with Bill Cekovsky,” said DeFeo. “Him and his family have put numerous years of volunteerism in and have done a tremendous job. He has spent a lot of his time though, behind the scenes, doing a lot of things himself. He has been a tremendous asset to Southington basketball through the SYBA. The foundation was already laid. Now, we’re just building upon that foundation.”
DeFeo said that the SYBA has to do a better job communicating to the parents and future players of basketball.
“Now we have a brand new website where you can go online and register and pay for the first time,” DeFeo said in early October. “You don’t have to come down to the middle schools to register anymore. The online registration is doing very well. A lot of people are picking up on it fast. We have close to 200 people signed up already.”
This winter’s registration and tryouts are completed, but the new website will continue to add new features for registering, schedules of events, registration dates for signups, travel league information, and recreation team practices, schedules, and more. The website also gives you the power to provide feedback with your thoughts on any of the features of the website, so that the SYBA can improve its communication.
The SYBA is in the process of building a database, which already contains over 1000 names. The database serves as another means for reaching out to people, gaining partnership with community services and charitable organizations. The SYBA currently doesn’t have sponsors, but DeFeo said he hopes to have sponsors at some point down the road and is not worried about finding support.
“This community has been awesome,” said DeFeo. “The businesses are very generous in this town.”
DeFeo said that communication will be critical for the SYBA moving forward in trying to expand the travel league teams to be more competitive. Currently, the SYBA holds boys and girls teams for grades five through eight. They added a fourth grade boys teams last year, and are hoping to get enough interest in the fourth grade girls this year. Another addition includes a second boys team, grades five through eight.
“I’m expanding the boys league to a blue and white division,” said DeFeo. “There will be an A team and B team so that more kids can play. The better kids get better and the less developed kids get better at the same time.”
DeFeo also said that he would love to add a Unified Basketball program for kids with special needs.
Similar to other sports, drawing more interest in basketball starts with building the foundation of an athlete’s skill level at an early age. DeFeo said that he feels the town of Southington should have a solid feeder program all the way up to the high school because of the size of the high school. Through that notion, he has been working hand in hand with the high school’s boys and girls basketball coaches, John Cessario and Mike Forgione, and new athletic director, Greg Ferry, to build a feeder program for the town, so that by the time kids reach high school, they will be ready.
“We have them [Cessario and Forgione] involved so that the kids can see who the coaches are,” said DeFeo. “Some day, they can play for those coaches. I think they’re very-well versed in the game of basketball. The discipline and structure of the game that they instill is awesome.”
DeFeo said that boys basketball, especially, has been struggling over a number of years for a lot of different reasons.
“It’s the same kids that play baseball and football,” said DeFeo. “We’re trying to get them to come back and play basketball. I think that’s the goal. Bring these kids back into the gym and put a ball in their hands at a younger age.”
In today’s time, more and more high school athletes are concentrating on the one sport they love most and are training for that sport throughout the whole year, particularly in the offseason. DeFeo said that he is not a fan of such a trend.
“I think kids should experience two or three sports, especially through their high school years,” said DeFeo. “Their bodies can’t take one sport all year round. By the time when it gets important to them for college, some of them get burnt out.”
DeFeo said that he believes the interest in basketball has also diminished in recent years due to technology, and has taken away from kid’s daily routines, but the new president and his board are looking to grow the sport in town.
DeFeo, a 1977 graduate of Southington High School, he played basketball under Ed Nardi, baseball under John Fontana, and soccer under Dan Murawski, but said that basketball is his favorite sport.