For 25 Years, They’ve Been Having a Ball in the SJA Summer League
LOWELL -- Summertime is a time for fun with friends and family. On weeknights in July and August at the Father Maguire Park on Mammoth Road one can often find dozens of families and friends together in one spot, having fun.
Moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and everyone else in between gather together to watch one thing -- the Ste. Jeanne D’Arc (SJA) Summer Basketball League. This summer the league is operating in its 25th year since it was created.
“It is a community,” said Cheryl Saba, who created the league along with her husband, Alan. “We’re all working together for the same goal. The referees, they get it, they know what they’re here for, they’re all for the kids. We’ve got a lot of great people that volunteer, a lot of coaches, adults and youths.”
The league hosts both boys and girls games and is played Monday through Thursday nights from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Father Maguire, near St. Rita’s Church. The scene at the courts is one to behold.
Dozens of family members and friends come to the games to support the kids. There is nothing but cheering and encouragement for the game that is going on between the lines. Kids are laughing, parents are relaxed, and smiling is contagious.
Christina Baraby is one parent who has a child in the league currently and an older child who played in the league for several years. “It keeps them active. It’s great for them to have a sense of community, a sense of teamship,” she said about her children participating.
“The coaches are really dedicated, the program is run by wonderful people and it’s nice for them to come here during the summer and kind of see all of the other classmates, schoolmates, teammates, and parents. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to come here together.”
When Cheryl Saba started the league all those years ago her goal was simple. “To give all the kids that had no chance to play summer basketball a chance to play basketball and those kids that were playing for their schools an opportunity to improve their skills during the summer and be ready for the next season,” she said.
Now, as another season is getting underway, the league has withstood the test of time. For Saba, it’s impossible for her to nail down a favorite memory. “Oh my god, there’s a million favorite moments. I couldn’t even hone them down,” she says.
“I think it comes to a culmination of seeing the kids from this young age stay with the program so when they’re 17 years old and they’re playing at their high schools, then they go on to college, and then they do well and they come back here and they coach for us.”
Sean Turcotte, who has coached for seven years in the league and has a daughter who still plays, appreciates everyone who helps out. “It’s all about the kids,” he says. “It’s a great league. I enjoy it, it keeps me going. This league, without volunteers, is not run at all.”
That community impact started with the Sabas. “They give so much time, so much effort, so much dedication, so much support to these kids,” said Baraby.
“They spend their whole summers here, all of their evenings, sometimes even on weekends I think they’re here cleaning up the parks. They’re just amazing, wonderful people and we’re really lucky to have them.”
Saba enjoys the league summer after summer. Thursday night, after she concluded officiating the first game of the night, she took a moment to survey the park.
“This is a high school player right here, she’s a coach. The young lady that was coaching over there is a high school senior at Lowell High,” she says. “The young lady over there is a junior at the Voke. The girl that was coaching over there is a high school player.”
The ties and traditions are everywhere, and the league truly is a show of support to kids and community.
“We have several young high school players that are coaching. They all come back and they want to give back -- that’s my favorite, to see that.”