Constable: No adults? No problem for this Barrington basketball league

Remember those good old days, when bunches of boys would get together in the summer to play basketball on an outdoor court with no adults telling them what to do?

That's happening now on the court at Countryside Elementary School in Barrington.

“It's just for fun,” says Austin Molinaro, who founded the Barrington Summer League with Nick Bordenet, Ryan Chang and Christian Katris, all 18-year-olds who just graduated from Barrington High School. The four, who call themselves “commissioners,” started the league last summer as a way to keep playing basketball when traditional adult-run programs were canceled due to pandemic restrictions.

With 24 teams and about 180 players playing a 14-game regular season and then playoffs, the league is about more than putting a ball through a hoop.

“This year, every team has an Instagram account,” Katris says.

The league posts schedules, results and rankings on its barringtonsummerleague Instagram account. Players post photos and videos, and they also dole out compliments and some trash-talking. Teams, with seven or eight players, buy matching uniforms and give themselves names such as the Solar Bears, Cocoa Puffs or Goofy Goobers. Some team names recognize players' backgrounds with monikers that include Black Panthers, the Wasian Mambas and the Rednecks.

“Those folding chairs came from my basement. That table is from my basement,” Katris says, referring to the courtside seats for players not in the game and the scorers' table, where kids take turns manning the scoreboard, keeping track of time and compiling statistics. The four founders make sure all of that gets done.

“We love basketball and seeing everybody who comes together,” Bordenet says of players who range from kids who just finished eighth grade to teens who graduated from high school this past weekend.

Bordenet and Katris played on the Barrington varsity basketball team that finished third in the state. Molinaro sings in an a cappella group, performs theater, and won a prestigious award for his sports programming work on the high school's television network. The 5-foot-5 Chang was a Northwest Suburban All-Area defender for the varsity soccer team.

“I played basketball before I played soccer. It was my first love,” says Chang, who notes that many of the summer league players don't play on any school or club l team. “You don't have to be good to play.”

One of the teams playing sends in a substitute for a player who fired up an ill-advised three-point attempt that missed everything. The shooter complains but takes a seat as a teammate reminds him, “You just shot an airball, man.”

Another player offers a change of strategy. “The wind has picked up. We need to work it inside,” he says, urging teammates to take shots closer to the basket.

There is no referee, and games can be pretty physical. Players call fouls, traveling and other infractions, when they are obvious, and the founders accept or reject the call.

“The tone of the game sets itself,” Molinaro says.

Just like in most pickup basketball games, there are sprained ankles, jammed fingers, floor burns and the occasional shoving match, but no one has been seriously injured. One player's parents donated the safety pads wrapped around the metal standards for the backboards.

Teams each pay $15, which offsets the cost of the miniature scoreboard and other expenses that arise, such as the squeegees the founders bought to clear the court after a rain.

The teams are divided into two conferences, and the schedules are based on power rankings in an attempt to match teams of similar abilities. With two 15-minute halves, the games run on a tight schedule. Starting in the morning, they can squeeze in as many as 14 games before the “sunset game,” which generally features two of the best teams and finishes about 8:30 p.m.

Parents have praised the program. A police officer responding to a nearby call swung by to see what the crowd was doing, then left. The founders say players abide by the ban on drugs and alcohol because they don't want to risk losing a good thing.

With Molinaro headed to the University of Dayton in the fall, Chang and Katris off to Indiana University and Bordenet leaving for Ohio State University, the founders say they hope the Barrington Summer League goes on without them.

“This is our last year of running BSL,” Molinaro says. “And we are trying to find some other individuals to continue it for years to come.”

  Running the Barrington Summer League basketball games can be a full-time job for the four founders and other volunteers. They create the schedules, keep the time and score, compile statistics, and settle any disputes. Burt Constable/
  It's hard to read on sunny days, but this portable device accurately keeps the score for games in the Barrington Summer League basketball season. Burt Constable/
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