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Miss-Lou youth basketball league reaches 20th year

Vidalia — Mike Bowlin has watched hundreds of children develop their basketball skills in the 20 years since he created the Miss-Lou Youth Basketball league in Vidalia.

Now in 2014, children that once played in the league’s earlier years are parents and coaches of current players.

Bowlin said it is a blessing to watch so many children grow up and come back to the place they started.

Bowlin started as just a spectator of the Natchez Basketball league, but in 1994, things started to get out of hand.

“(The league) was in its last year and it was to the point where people were putting their kids in younger age groups,” Bowlin said.

As the Natchez league ended, Bowlin and a few friends had a bright idea.

“I came over to Vidalia, and I knew an official in town named Charles Matthews and Vidalia Junior High’s principal Fred Marsalis (at the time),” he said. “We started talking about creating a league in 1994. We got together and thought we could make a go.”

The league grew fast, and Bowlin said he now has 42 teams and approximately 300 children participating.

Part of that is because he decided that younger people deserve to play, too.

“About three or four years ago, we decided to go younger, and we now allow five and six year olds,” he said. “They shoot on a seven foot goal with a smaller ball.”

Bowlin coaches the Callon’s Petroleum 7- and 8-year-old girls team, and he’s doing so with a player he one coached.

Kaitlin Dooley, 15, started playing in the Miss-Lou league in 2003, and now she is above the age limit, though her love for the sport and the league remains.

“I played basketball all my life, and I was on (Bowlin’s) team,” she said. “I stayed in touch with (Bowlin), and he asked me to coach.”

Dooley said she likes to encourage the children to play hard and have fun, just like she did during her nine-year Miss-Lou league career.

“I tell the girls or boys just to go out and keep trying and you’ll pick up on it,” Dooley said. “It’s easy and fun once you get the hang of it.”

Bowlin said one of his favorite memories over the years is seeing some of the children become heroes.

“I’ve seen a couple of players come through the league and won a state championship at Vidalia,” Bowlin said.

The league is funded through team fees and sponsors, and Bowlin said is proud to say the league has been able to give back.

“We donate money back to the local schools,” he said. “We’ve given more than $50,000 over the years to Vidalia Upper and Lower elementary and the junior high.”

With all that the league has accomplished in its time, Bowlin said he only hopes the league stays prosperous for 20 more years.