70 Del Norte youth ages fourth to tenth grade, are playing in first official year of Crescent City Warriors Club

Del Norte County has had a few youth basketball teams play in Amateur Athletic Union tournaments throughout the years, but it hasn't had anything approaching the brand new Crescent City Warriors AAU Club's participation.

Last year there were three youth teams in Del Norte, each operating individually. Recreation Department coordinator John Horner, who coached a seventh-grade girls team last year, and Frank Dowd, who coached a group of fifth-grade boys, decided that it was time to get a more permanent program started.

Around 70 kids have responded as the Crescent City Warriors have gotten off the ground this season with seven teams.

"A lot of kids are getting to play a lot more basketball," Horner said. "A lot of the other schools in the area and a lot of the programs down in Humboldt County have been doing this for years. Their girls programs in the high schools show it. Hopefully in the future these kids will prosper at the high school level."

Currently there are fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teams for the girls. The boys have a sixth-, eighth-grade and junior varsity team made up mostly of freshmen.

"We never thought it would be as big as it is," Horner said. "But in the next two or three years, look for it to keep growing with bigger teams and more people involved."

In the future, the Warriors program could grow to include eight teams with four each for the boys and girls, though as of now any more than that would be difficult for the Warriors to handle. Horner said the biggest obstacle to adding more teams is the ability to find available courts to practice on.

Horner said that there wasn't quite enough interest in the seventh grade to make a boys team, but one seventh grader is playing on the eighth grade team. Horner also said there are some fifth-grade boys on the sixth-grade team and fourth-grade girls playing with the fifth-grade team.

The Warriors teams, unlike the basketball teams at the elementary and middle schools, are made up of the best players from around the county and plays at a more competitive level than middle school ball.

"One thing about AAU basketball is it comes down to your skill level," Horner said. "Not everybody makes the team. We take the best in town."

While most AAU teams have between 10 and 12 players, the Warriors try to keep their teams closer to 10 due to the cost of participating.

"We usually try to keep it around 10 because a lot of these families are paying a lot of money to travel," Horner said. "Since it is a competitive nature, it is hard to ask a family to pay a lot of money to come to a tournament if their kid isn't going to play a whole lot. We try to keep it to the ones that are committed and able to travel."

The effort involved

While high participation numbers and several tournament championships indicate that the Crescent City Warriors inaugural season has been a success, Horner said they couldn't have done it without tremendous support.

"We really want to let the community know how much we appreciate their involvement," Horner said. "It costs about $1,000 per family to make this trip (to the Jam On It tournament in Reno, Nev.). It takes a lot of family support and community members to make it possible. There are so many that we can't even name them all. They all know who they are and we would like to thank them."

The program has done many fundraisers throughout the year, including raffles, car washes, a hoops shoot and a spaghetti feed, along with anything else they could think of to help pay for the season.

"Anytime we need money, it is always pretty easy to find someone in this area," Horner said, thanking local businesses for their support.

The Warriors have also gotten a lot of help from the school district. The Warriors practice at Crescent Elk, the high school, the Rec Gym and occasionally Smith River's new gym.

"We are very grateful to the school district for letting us use their gyms," Horner said. "We were able to get AAU memberships this year, so we were covered liability-wise and the school district has been huge in taking care of us and letting us use their gyms. That has been essential to us practicing and being able to make it to tournaments."

The final piece of the puzzle that has made the Warriors' first season a success has been the support from parents.

"All these parents are getting run ragged," Horner said. "For them to stick it out and get their kids to basketball, then softball and being gone every weekend at a tournament, it is a big commitment that these parents have made and we really appreciate it for sure."

2014 season finale

All seven teams will play in their fifth and final tournament of the season Saturday in Reno, Nev. The Jam On It Tournament, with teams from second grade to high school, is the biggest AAU tournament in the country.

"There will be 1,000 teams at this weekend's tournament in Reno," Horner said. "It will be a long weekend, but it will be a great experience for the kids. This is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event for the kids."