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Friday, July 19, 2019

LA’s Oldest Fall League for Girls Offers Opportunity to Run, Gun and Have Some Fun

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Photo Caption: League founder, Coach Art Jackson, has been hosting Run and Gun, the oldest autumn girls’ evaluation league in the Los Angeles area, with co-founder and fellow high school coach Steve Kavaloski since 1981. Much has changed over the years, says Jackson, but the league routinely attracts some of the hottest competition in the area, including reigning state champions Long Beach Poly (Division I) and Brea Olinda (Division II), as well as San Juan Capistrano’s JSerra Catholic High School, huddled nearby. JSerra recently upset perennial powerhouse Narbonne in league play.

Photo Credit: Full Court/Sue Favor

By Sue Favor

Anyone in a gloomy mood about the future fan-appeal of women’s and girls’ basketball should venture down to South Central Los Angeles. There, on Monday and Wednesday nights in early fall, the parking lot and parking structure at Lynwood High School are packed. The reason why is right inside the gym near the front door: Three basketball courts, each with its own game going on simultaneously, for four hours an evening.

The high school season has yet to officially begin, but twice a week, fans fill up the gym for the “Run and Gun Fall Basketball League,” leaning on walls and sitting on floors. Veteran attendees come prepared with their own fold-up chairs and water bottles, and they settle into those seats as they would for a good movie. Then they stay for a while.

“People like how competitive the play is - they know what to expect,” league co-founder Art Jackson said. “Hands down, it’s the best competition in the area.”

This year’s participant lineup is typically high-caliber. Teams include last year’s state high school girls’ champions Long Beach Poly and Brea Olinda, as well as Carson, Lynwood, Narbonne, Bishop Amat, Gahr and Long Beach Jordan. Teams take turns playing each other on a rotating schedule, at different times.

Games are fast and furious, as most schools use the League as a tune up for the upcoming season. On a recent night, Lynwood rallied to beat Poly 40-38, while the week before, JSerra of San Juan Capistrano surprised Narbonne with a six-point victory.

The third court is reserved for junior varsity teams, and the play there is just as competitive as in the varsity games.

A tall, looming figure at 6-foot-5, Jackson roams the courts all night as a referee. He says he is too restless to just watch the games, and that is obvious. One minute he’s casually talking with someone on the sidelines, and the next he’s jawing with a fan who didn’t like one of his calls. But it’s all part of the familial atmosphere of a 28-year-old league, where seemingly everyone, including Jackson, knows everyone else.

The league was the brainchild of Steve Kavaloski, who has been hosting it with Jackson since 1981. Jackson said Run and Gun is the oldest girl’s fall league in the LA metro area. He’s proud of it, too.

“It’s a good, well-run league,” he said. “The competition is there, it’s organized, everyone’s on time, the games start on time, and there’s no arguing with or between the coaches.”

When they started it, Jackson was the girl’s basketball coach at Gahr High School and Kavaloski, the coach at Garden Grove High School. Jackson said the girl’s and women’s game was “just starting to get big” at the time, and he and Kavaloski wanted to provide a place for girls to play.

That first year they had tryouts for the league, and 130 girls turned out. They were randomly put assigned to various coaches to form teams, and a league was born. By the 1990’s, California’s state rules had changed, and schools could bring their own teams in with their own coaches.

Jackson said three schools have had players and teams in Run and Gun from year one: Poly, Gahr and Long Beach Jordan. For its first 22 years, the league was hosted at Gahr. They later moved to Lynwood so they could better schedule the games, which begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m.

Poly Coach Carl Buggs brings three teams with him every year, and said he uses the games as an assessment period of player skill level, and potential to play at different spots on the floor.

“We take our returning kids and split them up - put them with the new kids on different teams,” he said. “Instead of establishing (team) roles and positions in October, we use it as a time to evaluate.”

Buggs said he takes his teams to leagues that Jackson runs in the spring and summer, too, because of Jackson’s flexibility and willingness to accommodate individual teams. For example, Jackson gives Orange County’s Brea and JSerra the early game times because each team has a long drive home.

Jackson said the main difference he sees between players in the 1980s and 1990s and now are that today’s players often lack the fundamental skills that were the norm among past players. Some, too, are not as mentally strong as the “old-timers” used to be, he said.

“A lot of kids can’t make a left-handed layup or dribble with their left hand,” said Jackson.

The adults have changed, too.

“There used to be a lot of parent support, but there’s much less now,” Jackson said. “Parents wouldn’t question everything coaches did, or talk about other kids the way they do now.”

But there’s been progress in other areas, said Buggs. The business of basketball, and the players that come with it, are more serious now, he noted.

“The game is faster and more athletic,” he said. “The girls are bigger, stronger and faster. There is much more training going on now, and some girls are playing 11 months of the year.”

Jackson, a former center, doesn’t smile a whole lot, but that’s just the way he is. He said there’s a reason why he runs girls’ leagues three seasons of the year.

“I enjoy it—I really do enjoy it,” he said. “It gives us all a chance to have some fun.”

The Run and Gun Fall League runs through October 28.




Originally published Wed, October 21, 2009

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
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5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
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