Cedar Boys League gives county hoops a summer home
The sounds are familiar, but the season is wrong.
A screech, a slap, a whistle. Then, a shout:
"That's a foul?!"
The next varsity boys basketball season may be six months away, but that future has suddenly arrived in Lebanon County, thanks to coaches Tim Speraw and Tom Smith.
Smith, the head coach at Cedar Crest, and Speraw, his rival at Lebanon, joined to create the Cedar Boys League, an eight-team summer club that takes the floor twice a week at their respective schools. Three other county programs, Palmyra, Elco and Annville-Cleona, bring a mix of varsity and JV players for games with 20-minute halves and a running clock until the final minute. All other PIAA on-court rules apply, excluding small tweaks to timeouts and overtime.
Though their season is more than half over, the list of short and long-term benefits for participants continues to grow.
"Even for some of our upperclassmen, it's a good time to get their feet and see what they got," Smith said. "And you coach the way you coach, but it's also a way to give everyone a chance."
"Our big thing is we try to do a lot of different combinations," Speraw said. "Everyone that comes, for the most part, is going to get some minutes. We try to just work hard and put the kids in different situations."
According to both coaches, the idea for a league was born out of a shared tiredness from annual travel to Lancaster and Harrisburg for summer competition. So together these sons of Lebanon set out to accomplish what they often charge their players with: making the game come to them. However doing so also meant roping in nearby non-county schools, which is where Hershey, Middletown and Manheim Central entered the fold.
For Hershey headman Paul Blackburn, a former coach at Lebanon, the league has become a effective way of keeping his players in the gym and a convenient reason to return home. For all involved, the opportunity to keep shots up and mileage down was a no-brainer.
"Of the initial six teams that we reached out to, all but one was able to do it," Speraw said. "We just had one team fill in to keep us at eight. Next year we might try to increase it a little bit. We don't have anyone traveling too far."
While no coach at the Cedar Boys League is without a clipboard or his best plea for a foul call, the focus ultimately is on player development. Offensive sets are scarce, if run at all, and defenses are both basic and predictable. Players, whether recent veterans of the freshman team or reigning All-County honorees, are simply expected to listen and work on their games with 100 percent effort.
Cedar Crest's Evan Horn, a two-time All-County team member, is taking his time on the court not only to hone his skills but those around him. Excluding Horn, the Falcons will bring back only one player with varsity playing experience - rising junior Ramie Ferreira, another Cedar Boys League player.
"It's nice being able to play the Lebanon County teams because in the season we never play them," Horn said. "But for us, I've been here three years, so I know how it goes. I just want to get (teammates') confidence up because when the season comes, we're going to need them."
The league's regular season will officially end Monday, three days before the start of playoff competition. All eight teams will be entered into the postseason, and from there it's up to them whether or not their summer of hoops continues. But for most involved, the inaugural year of the Cedar Boys League has already been a rousing success.
"The games have been competitive, it's been a lot of fun and it's nice to have here in our hometown," Smith said. "It's just been about bringing something to Lebanon."