ROSSENDALE Raptors are the basketball success story.
The ‘village’ team has defied logic as they have taken on and generally beaten the bigger city clubs.
In its first season in the national league last year, Raptors went on and won the Division Four play-off final at the first attempt – an achievement hailed as the best in the club’s 50-year history.
Since then, the club has gone on in leaps and bounds and currently lie second in Division Three and have the distinct possibility of achieving back-to-back promotions.
Now it is looking to spread its wing and is going through hoops to make sure that success filters down to its junior clubs – and recently established satellite centres in Blackburn and Accrington.
“The club’s motivation is to offer young people with the chance to play the game,” said club chairman and first team player Ken Masser. “These sessions are being started in response to demand in those areas and requests from schools to help them develop basketball outside the curriculum.
“As a club we have a passion for basketball and believe it can off a lot of benefits to young people and that really is our drive.”
Blackburn sessions are held at St Wilfrid’s High School every Tuesday (6-7pm for girls, 7-8pm for boys) – the first of which was held last week.
The Accrington sessions , also for 10 to 16-year-olds are at Accrington Academy on Fridays between 5-6pm.
Masser is hoping youngsters in Blackburn and Accrington buy in to what the Raptors are trying to do – just like their star player Steven Gayle.
The club pulled off something of a coup when they signed for the ex- Premier League player and former England international a few seasons ago and he was instrumental in that historic promotion last season.
“Some of our rivals say we are a one-man team and, to a certain extent, you could agree with them because Steven is such a class player.
“There has been a little bit of animosity but we had the idea to approach Steven and ask him to join us and we told him what our vision was and since he has been with us he has been absolutely brilliant.”
The aim now is to unearth the next Steven Gayle and the former Chester Jets ace is playing his part.
Gayle is running coaching sessions at St Wilfrid’s High School. The aim is to set up teams that will play in the Lancashire Junior Central League under the Raptors umbrella while it is hoping to develop a girls team to compete in the Girls National League.
Gayle, voted Most Valuable Player in Division Four last season, is under no illusion about the importance basketball can have in a youngster’s life.
“I started playing basketball as a young kid in central Manchester and it helped keep me out of trouble.
“Basketball has helped me to travel the world. I’ve played for teams all over the country and and I am excited to share my experience and skills with the next generation of basketball players and maybe inspire them to a better future while having a lot of fun at the same time.”
The club already has between 60 and 80 junior members at the club participating weekly. The club has three under 12s teams, two under 14s and under 16s teams which compete in various central venue leagues across East Lancashire.
The club has also forged a partnership with Blackburn Rovers through the Premier League for Sport Programme.
Masser added; “The partnership with Blackburn Rovers is an important one for the Club, and a relationship which they hope may blossom in the future.
“Many of Europes most prestigious basketball clubs are strongly linked with top European Football clubs who share resources and interlink community engagement programmes. Teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, Maccabi el Aviv and others have dominated European basketball in recent years and demonstrates that the two sports can work well together.
For more information about basketball sessions in Rossendale, Accrington or Blackburn visit www.rossendaleraptors.co.uk