National programs like Pop Warner football or Little League baseball and softball have long drawn youth players, but few independent programs have had as large and lasting of an impact on the Rogue Valley sports scene as a basketball league started by Manny Crump 35 years ago.
In what began as a way to create competitive youth basketball opportunities to offset the recreational YMCA leagues, Crump has seen his Manny’s Basketball Association grow from a handful of players and teams in 1983 to 78 teams this past winter — and nearly 200 teams for the year when you factor in the fall, winter, spring and summer seasons.
The MBA boasts boys and girls teams from the third grade to high school levels each season. The cost is $50 per season, although it bumps to $125 for the winter season due to additional uniform orders.
“Each season I never know what’s going to happen and if I’m going to keep this thing going,” says Crump, “and then I walk into the gym on the first day of sign-ups and there’s 75 kids in the gym and I’m like, ‘Woah.’ ... We must be doing something right.”
Crump has done something so right that Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Dyer presented him in December 2016 with the annual Chairman’s Award, which recognizes a local resident whose lifetime contributions have made a profound difference in people’s lives.
“This league touches 1,500 kids per year,” says Dyer, “and nobody ever gets turned away because they can’t pay. I just think it’s so important what Manny does and the opportunities he’s provided for kids.”
“There’s a lot of kids that are doing this instead of something a lot worse,” adds Dyer. “I recognize that, but I don’t know if enough people realize how important this league is.”
It’s all been a steady work in progress by Crump, who was a standout basketball player during his prep days in Los Angeles before playing three years at Oregon Institute of Technology and one year at Southern Oregon State College, where he graduated with a social sciences degree in 1983.
After graduation, Crump went to work as an assistant coach at Ashland High, and that’s where the first stage of MBA was born.
“When I was hired as a coach, I noticed how the kids around the area didn’t play much,” recalls Crump. “Basketball is great now, but back then there wasn’t a lot of basketball in the valley. So I started talking to kids to meet me down at the college to start working on drills.”
Initially six basketball hopefuls turned out to his practices. Word spread until he was able to play 5-on-5 games and offer up a more competitive alternative to the YMCA leagues.
From six teams in 1985 playing at Ashland Middle School to nearly 80 these days at Medford’s Central High School, the mobile league simply kept building year after year as Crump searched out any playing opportunities he could find utilizing gyms at local fitness clubs and schools from Ashland to Grants Pass and everywhere in between.
“From that point forward it just kind of took off,” says Crump, 59. “I’ve played in pretty much every gym in the valley.”
And all because of a lifelong dream to provide basketball players the same opportunities he had while growing up.
“My goal was to get these kids playing more competitive basketball to help build the programs,” says Crump. “My playing days are over, so I’m all about helping kids now, and I really, really enjoy this.”
“I want to give these kids the same opportunity those kids are getting in the bigger cities,” he adds. “You’ve got lots of clubs and sponsors in bigger cities, or they can go over to clinics or camps sponsored by Nike, but down here we don’t have that. So I also want to make sure that we’re getting the same opportunities to compete with the bigger teams like in the city of Portland.”
While a host of varsity players at high schools throughout the Rogue Valley have cut their teeth in the MBA, the league has become more than just a training ground for those with elite skills. Players of all levels compete, some for the camaraderie and others for the opportunity just to escape.
“I think basketball is an outlet for a lot of kids,” says Crump. “If something goes wrong at home, you can always come to the gym. I’ve never turned away kids. Every kid that walks through the door is on the basketball team.”
“Basketball really is life,” he adds. “It teaches kids discipline and that you really have to pay attention and work together, and if you want to be part of a family, basketball is family. Some of these kids might not have that at home, so they use basketball as an outlet. I’ve had kids come and talk to me about school and about getting in trouble and I’ve tried to be a mentor to them and try to guide them and help them. I try to use basketball as a tool to help these kids in need.”
The job certainly hasn’t been an easy one over the years, and has led Crump eventually to make it his full-time profession, with a little side work these days at Talent Middle School.
“I had a full-time job and I was staying up late night hours on basketball until I just realized there was no way I could work and do this at the same time,” says Crump.
Crump coordinates gym usage for practices and games, orders uniforms, works with coaches and parents to answer questions, coordinates referees and handles all the setup and take-down efforts each weekend to go with various other duties, noting that “half my laundry bill is washing basketball jerseys.”
“He doesn’t do it because it makes him rich, either, we know that,” says Dyer.
The only thing that could make it better for Crump would be a chance to provide even more opportunities for Rogue Valley youth.
“This town really needs a community center, some place with about eight to 12 basketball courts, because I think there is a need,” says Crump. “We’re in a time where there’s just not enough gym space for everybody. I know one day it will happen, and hopefully I’m still around.”
Besides the MBA and YMCA, youth leagues are available at Kids Unlimited and through starter programs provided by the Medford Parks and Recreation Department.
For more information about Manny’s Basketball League and to register, call 541-499-5749 or see www.mannysbasketball.com. Scholarships are available to play.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry