Natchez youth league making impact

Published 9:11 am Sunday, March 4, 2007

The arrival of the month of March means many things in the world of sports.

It is the beginning of baseball, the start of spring football practice and the end of most nonprofessional basketball seasons, including the Natchez city youth league.

This year 420 children and 65 volunteer coaches participated in the league, which is broken down into four divisions: ages 5-7, 8-9, 10-11 and 12-14.

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Wilbert Whittley, program director for the Natchez parks and recreation department, said he has organized the league for the past seven years, but said the league has been in place a lot longer. Whittley also said the league offers a lot to the Natchez community.

“It has a great impact on the community,” he said. “It gives kids and parents something to do on game nights, and it is very family oriented.”

The league began its season in the middle of January and will run through March 31, and will conclude with an awards ceremony and barbecue.

“Everybody comes together as one big unit,” Whittley said.

Despite the numerous teams and games to organize, Whittley said his job is not stressful.

“There is no stress. The satisfaction I get is seeing a child smile, and seeing children grow in the program.”

Several youth league coaches share Whittley’s feelings.

Cel White and his wife,Yalanda have been coaching in the youth league since 2002.

“We do it because the kids love it,” Cel said. “We are competitive people and we love sports.”

Both said being a husband and wife coaching tandem works well with them coaching two teams.

“It works pretty good because she covers for me when I have to work, “ Cel White said.

The couple got into coaching prior to moving to Natchez in 2002. The New Orleans natives helped coach football.

“I got into coaching football, and my wife coached the cheerleaders,” he said. “It is something we have done so it was easy to get into it in Natchez.”

Even though Yalanda White says she loves sports and enjoys coaching basketball, she said her favorite sport is football.

“I had four older brothers and that’s all I ever did,” she said.

Valencia Hall coaches four teams, one in each age division. Like the Whites, she too has been coaching in the Natchez youth league since 2002.

“I enjoy working with children and I like sports. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about teaching them (children) team work, the fundamentals of the game and overcoming adversity,” Hall said.

She said the game of basketball also teaches discipline.

Hall said she came from an athletic family and coaching was just a natural fit.

“I plan to do it for a long time, as long as my health permits,” she said.

A long with the coaches, the league also offers enjoyment for the players.

“It’s fun, I am trying to make it somewhere and be somebody,” said 12 year-old Heat point guard Darius Terrell.

Terrell, who is in the sixth grade, said he has played in the league since he was in the second grade.

“Basketball is my favorite sport and I want to make to the NBA,” he said.

Terrell’s teammate Dominique Williams, 13, said he too wants to play in the NBA. The shooting guard is participating in his first year of youth league play and said so far, his experience has been good.

Keyana Miller, 11, plays center for the Eagles.

“I am the tallest person on the team,” she said.

Miller said she has played in the league for three years and said she likes making baskets and said she also like the sportsmanship the league teaches.

She said basketball is her main sport, and added that she would like to pursue the game on higher levels.