Eric Flannery wants to get back to basketball’s roots.
The memories are still fresh from his childhood growing up in Lakewood, where endless summer afternoons were spent traveling from playground to playground looking for the next pick-up game, teaming up with friends or total strangers of different ages and enjoying the competition.
At its heart, basketball is a game meant to be enjoyed by all who pursue it. No pressure, no wild schedules, no expensive price tags. Just roll the ball out and play.
With his Cleveland Old School Athletics (COSA) spring league for boys in grades 4-8, Flannery, who recently completed his 24th season as St. Edward’s basketball coach, is trying to recapture some of that purity with an AAU alternative that will combine skillwork with a fun environment during weekly games.
Flannery, who also runs the COSA AAU program along with current Magnificat basketball coach Danny Gallagher during the spring and summer months, has been thinking about such an alternative for years.
“I understand that AAU is a necessity nowadays, and it’s something that people feel like they have to do, especially at the younger grades,” he said. “It’s always been a little frustrating for me, both as a parent and then a coach, to see what’s out there at times. It’s not all bad, but what other options do kids have in the spring?”
This year proved to be the time to put his plan in motion. Usually, St. Edward’s facilities are booked solid through the spring months between athletic events and various school functions. Because COVID-19 pushed a number of events back, Flannery was able to square away a stretch of just more than a month to put his vision into practice.
Skill sessions will start April 20 and run through May 27, taking place every Tuesday and Thursday. Age groups will be broken down into groups of grades 4-6 and 7-8. Grades 4-6 will work on skills and fundamentals from 6-7:15 p.m. and grades 7-8 from 7:30-9 p.m. in the main high school gym.
Every Saturday from May 1 to May 29 will be gameday, with teams of grades 4-6 and 7-8 playing back-to-back games at the gym. In a twist designed to allow the players simply enjoy the sport, there will be a scorekeeper and a referee staffed, but no coaches.
Members of the Eagles coaching staff, as well as some players, will be assisting on both skill and game days.
“Another under-developed and under-taught thing is just letting the kids go out and play, trying to teach themselves how to play and how to handle things, coach each other and coach themselves,” Flannery said. “This year we can at least try out this (program) and see how it goes.”
Registration will run right up to the start of the skill days. Teams of up to eight players or individuals can sign up and be placed on a team at random. Spots are limited to 12 total teams for grades 4-6 and 7-8. So far, there have been around 60 applicants.
A major difference in the program is its cost–$275 for an individual player, $225 for each player signed up as part of a team of eight. Flannery, who created the COSA AAU program as a way to coach his own kids and help develop their games, wanted to keep the league as affordable and schedule-friendly as possible. Many AAU programs can charge anywhere between $550 and $1,000 per player, with games sometimes being played up to eight hours apart and in different locations.
“It’s one of those things, as a parent, that I knew having four kids going through the AAU stuff, is that it’s expensive,” he said. “You do a ton of traveling. It pretty much takes up anywhere from six to eight weekends and scheduling is inconsistent and you’re running all over the place. The kids really need that, to get back to how things used to be. Back in the day when I was growing up, we’d just go to the park and play. We’re getting away from that more and more.”
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