Bethpage P.A.L. Basketball Makes Clever Moves to Revitalize League By Scott Bickard November 16, 2011 Operating a successful youth sports organization requires league executives to balance a competitive atmosphere with the needs of the kids in the local community. For P.A.L. basketball, the emphasis has always been on the kids. But the noble choice often comes with a price. For P.A.L., that meant a downward trend in participation over the last decade, leading to a reduced quality of play. To bring the basketball back to P.A.L. (while preserving the organization’s core values), league officials have made a series of creative moves in the last few seasons. Among the many new initiatives enacted by P.A.L., expansion was probably the most important, for it almost instantly solved the problem of low participation. League officials smartly connected with neighboring P.A.L. organizations in Wantagh, Seaford, East Meadow, Massapequa, Levittown, and Hicksville. Instead of enormous seven-town leagues, however, P.A.L. heads mix and match depending on need. For example, a dearth of older boys had been a problem for Bethpage leagues – until Wantagh agreed to combine their impressive depth of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, including seven teams last season. Not only does interleague play make up for low registration in certain age groups, it also gives players a taste of outside competition never experienced before in P.A.L. At the same time, the policy of merging with only certain towns means that the local flavor of the league will always exist. (Most divisions combine a maximum of two towns.) P.A.L. has not only expanded its partnerships, but its age range as well. For most of its history, the local organization spanned grades two through nine. Last year, boys basketball extended to grade eleven – and the league expects to field a twelfth grade league in 2012. In addition to increasing the reach of P.A.L., the older divisions provide an outlet for high school players looking for a low pressure environment to work on their games as well as a place for other athletes interested in organized basketball. The process of expansion, though enormously beneficial, was not complete until its second year, when league officials realized the need for a uniform set of rules. Of paramount concern was that the spirit of P.A.L. – that kids play equal amounts – be maintained throughout all the town leagues. With play expanding to outside towns for the first time, equal playing time for all was one of the only characteristics separating P.A.L. from outside leagues. Once that criterion was in order, expansion resumed smoothly. Another chief issue at interleague P.A.L. meetings is planning and organizing the enormously popular March Madness Tournament. The double-elimination event, which began in 2009 for the boys and 2010 for the girls, comprises an all-star team in each age group from towns around Long Island (along with the original seven towns, Roosevelt, Uniondale, and Western Nassau County also participate). The tournament has filled the gap for competition missing since the days of P.A.L. playoff basketball. To accommodate such a large-scale operation, P.A.L. uses the recently opened Town of Oyster Bay Athletic Center in Hicksville. The complex serves as the Nassau County P.A.L. headquarters and is the primary location for P.A.L. meetings. It also houses a full-length basketball court, central air-conditioning, a cafeteria, conference rooms, a ping pong table, and a second floor coach’s box overlooking the court. The structure could satisfy a division I college basketball team. The Hicksville court also plays host to a staple of the P.A.L. system: the summer basketball camp. Aspiring Long Island ballers entering grades three through nine can choose from two one-week sessions, or, as many do, choose both. The camp follows the path of the P.A.L. way; contests and fun are prized over cutthroat competition. Like a professional franchise in rebuilding mode (see Detroit Lions, Golden State Warriors, etc.), P.A.L.’s final touches were a new look. Reversible mesh jerseys replaced the traditional tee shirt uniform (because no one works out in the plain cotton tee anymore). Further, the P.A.L. logo now includes a basketball, and even the game balls have been updated to a more rim-friendly model. P.A.L. learned a long time ago the merits of maintaining a respectable organization built on equal playing time for all. With its recent decisions, the hoops grouphas shown the ability to adapt, to make smart and creative moves, and to find success – all while preserving the sanctity of the league.