Picking up the Pee Wees pieces

What began as a flap over jerseys has turned into an examination of the ways the East Bremerton Pee Wees Association can improve overall, EBPWA president James Brake said.

An influx in enrollment combined with a leadership transition period has led to concerns for parents regarding how the E-string athletes, the 5- to 8-year-olds, are viewed within the league.

The problems began at the start of the season when the jerseys for the East Bremerton Red, White and Blue teams arrived before their first games. Unlike the previous season in which all players at all levels had embroidered, reversible mesh jerseys with matching shorts, the E-string teams received white cotton jerseys, much like a sleeveless T-shirt. The thought was the kids would be able to keep the jersey, rather than return it at the end of the year, Brake said.

But compounding the problem was the fact teams received white jerseys.

So when East Bremerton Red and White played each other on Jan. 27, chaos ensued on the hardwood.

With the youngsters having problems identifying their teammates, the Red team was forced to temporarily dye their players’ hair red for the game. The next week, parents were upset when Brake and EBPWA second vice president Rick Whitesett showed up with orange pennies (a jersey pull-over) for the kids to wear to distinguish themselves.

Rhonda Jacobs, whose son Trevar Holland plays for the East Bremerton Red team said when the kids play teams with real jerseys, she can see the affect it has.

“We came from North Perry because they were really having problems there,” Jacobs said. “My son thinks he’s in the NBA here. When we go and see other teams looking sharp and we have pennies, it does affect our kids.”

E-level parents were wondering why their costs had stayed the same while they were not receiving the same jerseys. Each child in the league registers for $75 to play. Matters were compounded when a game between East Bremerton Red and Blue took place on Feb. 3. The Blue team showed up in last year’s jerseys, frustrating parents of the Red team who had dyed their jerseys a red that quickly faded in the wash to a redish-pink.

Marci Logue, another parent at the meeting, said the fact the other team had the jerseys put parents over the top.

“The pennies didn’t fit,” Logue said. “They were falling off the kids the entire time. The orange ones were falling apart.”

The problem is just one of many hardships the EBPWA board has been working on to improve the league.

Brake, who like most of his board is in his first year, said it was never the EBPWA’s intention to make any of the kids feel less wanted. He said most of the problems the league has been experiencing thus far are things it initially didn’t expect or know about becasue they are new to the board.

“If I see things that are hiccups, I try to find a system to replace them,” Brake said. “A lot of these are problems (the EBPWA) have had in the past. So we’re trying to look at what we can do to make this better. How can we make not only the E-string better, but also make it better for everyone.”

Complicating matters even more is the fact that enrollment in the basketball program has increased from around 90 kids to around 130, Brake said. That means the league has had a tough time keeping up with growing needs for facilities as well.

Other problems have included a lack of qualified officials and year-end recognition for the E-strings.

Brake said as a response to parental concerns, the board has established an E-level sports committee designed to look at what is being offered at the E-level and how those programs can be improved.

Some of those improvements are already taking place.

For example, Brake announced that on March 12, the EBPWA will have a E-level day at Olympic College. He said the event, which will possibly also include the D-level girls team, will allow the kids to get more recognition while playing on the OC hardwood.

“OC has allowed to let us use the gym for free,” Brake said. “I hope it will give kids more recognition.”

The league has also turned over all of last season’s jerseys — although many are in poor shape — to the teams for alterations. The state of the jerseys is why the league purchased new ones to begin with, Brake said. He added that the league will try to get out of using “rental” jerseys while still making the quality nicer. He said that way, the kids would have nice jerseys they will potentially be able to keep.

“(Next season), we’ll go with nicer, heavy-duty reversible jerseys,” Brake said. “We’re trying to find the funding now to make it possible that maybe the kids can keep them. We want to get out of the rental business. That’s where the problems with the jerseys came from.”

Rob Shauger, who coaches the East Bremerton Red E-stringers, said he thinks most of the problems have come as a result of the board’s inexperience and the added kids.

“We a had a lot of kids turn out unexpected,” Shauger said. “They just didn’t anticipate that many kids. And I think they’re still learning to run a Pee Wee program.”

Shauger added that his parents have appreciated the league’s efforts in trying to fix the early problems.

“I think my parents are happy that they’re trying to rectify it,” Shauger said.

Because of the high number of players and the growth of other youth sports leagues, Brake said finding more facilities has been one of the biggest on-going issues with basketball.

“There used to be two or three groups that would vying for funds,” Brake said. “Getting funds is more competitive now than ever before.”

Parents were also concerned that the costs they pay were not representative of what the E-levels were receiving.

“We really want to know where our money is going,” Jacobs said at the meeting. “It feels like we’re not imprtant. My kid is moving up (from E-string). This is for next year.”

Brake said the costs were the same for all kids because facilities costs and insurance costs have increased. He also said there are a number of low-income athletes for whom the fees have been waived, affecting registration fees.

“In East Bremerton, we have a lot (of waivers),” Brake said. “We might have 130 kids playing, but there’s not 130 kids paying. Parents don’t want to have to pay for other kids, but what do you say to the parents that can’t afford it? Go elsewhere? No way. Kids have to be able to play sports.”

In terms of recognition, Brake said he hopes things like the tournament will begin to help garner more attention for the little kids.

Shauger said the league has also made strides in terms of a banquet, which the league will hold for the basketball program this year.

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