Buddies’ Hoop Program Seeks to Help With Player Shortages

So, how does one of the most consistently successful New Hampshire Division I high school girls’ basketball programs respond to experiencing shrinking numbers of players coming out to play for a span of several years?

Well, at Londonderry High School the answer has been a multi-pronged approach with one of its centerpieces being the resurgence of a Big/Little Buddies program which links LHS Lady Lancer varsity hoopsters with promising and spirited third grade cagers from the Londonderry Basketball Club.

A handful of years ago when present Lady Lancer starters Amanda DeAngelis and Emmy Dumaresq were in elementary school, the buddies’ program existed and helped create a bond between the LHS cagers of that time and the LBC youths. But that important connection fell away in subsequent years.

Now, during the 2016-17 season, with the Londonderry High girls’ hoop program having dwindled down to a mere 18 active players despite the fact that coach Nick Theos’ Lady Lancers have been a top-four team in tough Division I for a whole bunch of years, there is no better time for the buddies’ program to make a comeback. That was the thinking of Londonderry Basketball Club booster members Jolene and Mark DeAngelis – parents of the aforementioned Amanda – and Suzanne Dumaresq, mom of Emmy.

It’s certainly more than a little troublesome to Theos and the folks connected with the LHS girls’ program that the Lady Lancers have gone without a freshman team – previously unthinkable – because turnout has been so low for tryouts each of the last two Novembers and Decembers. But Londonderry is far from the only program around dealing with that difficulty, and the reasons for it are numerous.

“It’s a combination of five or six things, and it’s not just us,” said coach Theos. “Most teams around the state are having the same problem, except for Bishop Guertin (of Nashua) because they can go out and get kids and Pinkerton because they have so many kids who go there.”

Some of the reasons for the low numbers of players interested in playing high school hoops include athletes’ year-round involvement in sports like crew, soccer, and lacrosse, the desire or need of some youngsters to work jobs instead of playing sports, the fact that some of the better basketball players elect to go to private schools which will give them greater exposure to college coaches, programs, and possibly scholarships, and the fact that high school basketball seasons are extremely time-intensive and by necessity programs demand that players be available during Christmas and February vacations, which negates players’ chances to vacation with their families during those periods.

One would expect that the Lady Lancers’ state title wins in both 2014 and 2015 and the fact that they got within a single victory of playing in the Division I title game again last winter would make younger cagers want to a part of the high school program. But with all of the aforementioned challenges in play, the numbers simply haven’t been there the last several years.

Jolene DeAngelis spearheaded the effort to get the Big/Little Buddies program rolling again, and plenty of folks are happy with the way in which it has happened.

Varsity players have been paired with third graders, and the fellow hoopsters have connected regarding basketball and other concerns which they have in common.

The third graders have taken part in Lady Lancer pregames and played short contests during halftimes, and many also take place in the several Lady Lancer clinics – like the one held at LHS just this past Sunday – which take place each year for young cagers in the third through eighth grades.

“With the younger kids, we’re trying to pique their interest in the Londonderry High program and talking about what it means to be a Lancer,” said coach Theos. “We try to make them feel invested in the program.”

Theos and his last several assistants and junior varsity coaches Ian Horseman and Jamie Doyle have attended Londonderry Middle School tryouts over the last few years to gauge what kinds of talent they have coming to them, and the LMS program has been all kinds of strong where numbers are concerned. The 2016-17 middle school program had some 45 players try out and has two teams.

So, on paper, there are plenty of reasons to feel that the Londonderry High girls’ hoop program’s feeder system is strong and hopefully growing even stronger with the return of the Big/Little Buddies’ program.

“Essentially, our goal is to build a girls’ basketball community, a girls-supporting-girls environment that encourages younger ball players to get involved and experienced players to pay it forward,” said Suzanne Dumaresq.

Jolene DeAngelis – whose husband Mark was a longtime Londonderry Basketball Club coach – is directing the relaunched buddies’ program and is quite happy with the way it has gone this winter.

“The program was such a positive thing for our girls when they were younger, so we thought it would be good to start it back up both for the high school players and the younger girls,” said Jolene DeAngelis.

Emmy Dumaresq, a starting sophomore guard for the Lady Lancers’ contingent who is enjoying a strong 2016-17 season, sees first-hand the benefits of being a big buddy after having been a little buddy years ago.

“What I like best about the buddies’ program is being given the chance to help these girls improve with basketball, and maybe be the reason they stick with the sport,” she said. “When I was a little one, I looked up to the high school players, and that motivated me to keeping playing basketball.”

Dumaresq’s fellow Londonderry High starter Hannah Hagearty is also a serious fan of the multiple benefits of the buddies’ program for all involved.

“The big buddies’ program is a great opportunity for both the younger players and for us as mentors,” she said. “We are able to provide a positive experience for the girls, and support them not only on the court but teach them important lessons about team-work, communication, and work ethic. I really enjoy giving back to the community and seeing the smiles on the players’ faces when working on drills, scrimmaging, or playing games.”

The buddies’ program is one important facet in a dedicated effort to keep the LHS girls’ hoop program strong going forward and return the numbers of players back to previous totals, with lots of young cagers taking pride in the fact that they are or can in the future be Lady Lancers.

A program which claimed significant successes in the past – the Big/Little Buddies’ program – has been renewed this year after a dormancy of some years. That program connects Londonderry High girl basketball players with Londonderry Basketball Club youth cagers in a mentoring scenario. Courtesy photo

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