Rogers and Maple Grove programs host MYAS Grade State Championship games

Bridging the gap to high school sports, Grade State Championships

By Paul Langfellow

The final weekend of the Grade State Championships were held by MYAS across the Twin Cities for 7th and 8th grade boys this past weekend (March 12-13) where 381 teams capped off their season. And of course, for many 8th graders the significance is high as it was perhaps their last tournament before advancing on to high school.

Darin Elingson who is the president of the Rogers High School Booster Club was thrilled to have MYAS back for another weekend. “The money we raise goes into our high school basketball program, so we can help pay for team meals and uniforms.  Our varsity team went to Moorhead for a section game, so we pay for a coach bus so they don’t have to ride in a school bus all the way up to Moorhead. So it’s just money we put back into the program.”

Photo by Paul Langfellow

Elingson went on to talk about how he felt about hosting the tournament at Rogers; “It’s fun to see the kids at the end of the season get the big trophies,  so when they win the big trophy they are pretty excited.”

And with the NCAA Tournaments on the horizon many people were getting into the spirit of basketball including players, coaches and fans who were in Rogers. “It works out pretty good! I mean people go right from this, and tomorrow is selection Sunday, so they are all ready for the tournaments.”

From Up North

On the court, players and coaches came to compete, and Rob Birkeland’s Pequot Lake’s 7th grade team was no different.

 “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach this group since 3rd grade with my assistant Chris Haar” said Birkeland.  “And we have done very well.  We are going after our third championship including last year where we won a 4th tier (MYAS Grade State) title. It’s the same one we are in this year and that’s our goal. It doesn’t define us, but that’s our goal.”

Traveling and playing against new teams was also a great incentive for many teams from all over Minnesota to play in this MYAS state tournament.

“We are two hours north of where we are today in Rogers, and it gives us the ability to come down and play better competition.  I think MYAS is aware of trying to have a good culture for everyone. And that’s what we try to do as a program in Pequot for both boys and girls. It’s a competitive side, but it’s also enjoyable” Birkeland said.

“We travel a lot” he continued.  “We do for our school ball because it’s a part of living in a rural part of our state, so we try to come down and play in the metro once a month. We have played in MYAS sanctioned events in Brainerd, and Delano before. Our scheduling for all our levels starts at MYAS, every program travels, we get hotels and we make it fun.”

Preparing for the future

Of course, preparing kids for the future is the real goal for many coaches, and being successful in the transition of playing abilities, teamwork and skills from Middle School to High School sports. Birkeland went on to say;

“I believe that we are successful because we believe in our four core values of joy, competition, compassion and awareness. And I believe that we are trying to develop young men and women to overcome adversity. We don’t want to pave the road for the kids, but we want to prepare them for the road. We talk about attitude effort and focus. We want to be positive, and encourage our classmates in school, and encourage our teammates while we are playing”

Hoopin’ in the Grove

Down the road in Maple Grove, the Osseo Maple Grove Basketball Association (OMGBA)  along with Crossfire AAU also played host to the 7th/8th Grade State championships.  

With five courts buzzing with activity throughout the weekend, Maple Grove Middle School was a perfect spot for the tournament. “Maple Grove Middle School is about 5 to 7 years old” said  Gregg Nelson who was the site coordinator at Maple Grove Middle School. 

“There are lots of reasons that we host. For community service, promoting youth sports, and we have a great facility here” he said.

Photo by Paul Langfellow

“The Osseo district was at capacity in terms of gym space, and it (Maple Grove Middle School’s facility) really has been a godsend for the basketball community on this side of town.” Nelson said. He went on to say “there are three organizations involved today. MYAS runs the tournament, we are assisting the Osseo Maple Grove basketball association, who actually runs the new part of this facility and we are assisting them with running the tournament today.” 

From Belle Plaine to the big city

Much like Rob Birkeland’s Pequot Lakes team, Dan Koepp’s Belle Plaine 8B Red team was happy to travel the extra distance be at Grade State and face new competition.

“What I like about the traveling aspect is getting competition we normally don’t get to play” he said. “Belle Plaine high school is down in the Minnesota River Conference, so we see those teams throughout our high school career. So coming here and getting different competition is great” 

“I’ve been involved with coaching this group either as an assistant or head coach basically from 4th grade on. Seeing these boys grow up, one of them is my own, they have really come together to play as a team.  We’ve got some good players obviously, but all working together and they care about each other and they bring that on the court which is great.”

Koep also likes the life lessons that are learned with youth sports, and specifically basketball.  

“We really focused on 3 aspects for us as a team, respecting the other team, respecting referees, coaches and respecting each other. And also teamwork. We have a couple of strong players, but we all need to play together on the court. These are things they can carry beyond basketball but for the rest of their lives. When they get faced with a challenge they can look back at this experience and be able to step up to it.”

End of the 8th grade road

Competing in a Grade State Tournament at the end of the season is something that  players, coaches and parents all enjoy. And with the end of Middle School approaching for 8th graders, high school will soon be upon them. So, as an 8th grade coach, what does Seth Wigley from Eagan’s 8B2 team emphasize to his players?

“Just to enjoy their last season of traveling basketball and have fun… and win as many games as we can. We started a little slow, we were 6 and 6 to start, and we are 10 and 2 since, we have won 3 different tournaments.” 

Some players will undoubtedly continue on into high school playing basketball or other sports, but for others, the fun learning experience of playing traveling basketball and specifically at the Grade State Championships is something that  will stay with them throughout their lives.

Click here for Tournament results/brackets

Click here for photo gallery from Maple Grove Middle School games

Click here for photo gallery from Rogers High School games

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