Feb. 22, 2006 - There are a lot of things a person can get hooked on, especially in the world of sports. Many of those are bad for you and your health - steroids, drugs, ego, to name a few.

When it comes to basketball, Beth Ann Baden is a self-admitted junky, though not hooked any of the aforementioned vices.

Thanks to this hoops junky, Oro Valley was able to offer a recreational hoops program for kids in kindergarten through fifth grades that began in December.

For all the complexities of creating a league from scratch, the Oro Valley Winter Hoops League, which debuted in December, had a rather simple start.

"I just picked up the phone and called the (Oro Valley) parks and rec and said 'Do you offer a basketball program? Would you like to offer a basketball program? I can help you out,'" said Baden.

After a three-month season, the Oro Valley league - co-founded by Baden with Oro Valley police officer Herb Williams - concluded its inaugural campaign with a March Madness style tournament Feb. 18 at Wilson Elementary School, 2330 W. Glover Road.

The league featured 165 boys and girls and played its games at Wilson. Enrollment was such as success that the league needed a waiting list of those wishing to play.

Baden expects the success of year one to translate into bigger enrollment numbers next year, which in turn, will allow the program to branch out into other forums. The league has been such a success that Baden believes it will be able to double in size in its second season.

After creating a recreational basketball league from scratch in Darien, Conn., Baden saw the potential for the same type of program in Oro Valley - a town of comparable size.

The Connecticut program, run through the Darien YMCA, started with 300 kids and ballooned to more than 1,200 in just five years. Aside from the house league of players ranging from K-8, the YMCA expanded with 10 travel teams as well.

What turned the Darien program into the premier league in its area was the attention it paid to teaching the skills to its players. Even if it was for one hour a week, the Darien YMCA was able to create a yearlong program where kids worked on shooting and three-on-three play.

Eventually, Baden would like to accomplish the same in Oro Valley by creating spring and summer leagues as well as offering fundamental clinics during the off-season.

"I have a son who's in first grade, so I really wanted him to learn how to play the game. Not just play the game and run up and down the court, but I wanted him to learn how to play with fundamentals as well as all of his friends that play in my backyard."

Baden's son will need to play a lot of basketball to catch up with his mother, whose resumé is impressive and includes collegiate coaching gigs at University of New Haven, Georgia Southwestern State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and a year at St. John's University.

Her collegiate experience was part of the reason why team names in her league are named after college teams. But before sending kids straight to the NCAA, they'll need to learn the basics.

"We approach it a little differently based on the fact that the kindergarten, first and second graders need to learn the fundamentals," said Baden. "It's kind of like the base of your house, you're not going to put the windows in before you put the cement foundation."

Baden credits the league's first year success to the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Department, which provided financial, administrative and facility support.

"They were basically the foundation, the backbone of how we got it started," Baden said. "They took the chance on a brand new program."

With a foundation in place kids can learn to appreciate the game, said Baden. Perhaps one day they'll even enjoy it as much as Baden - who perhaps by sheer coincidence shares the same last name as a popular brand of basketball.

"I love to watch, to coach and to play," Baden said, "It's really a sickness."

Christopher Wuensch is a staff writer covering sports. He can be reached at 797-4384 ext. 112 or by e-mail at cwuensch@explorernews.com.

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