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From the Acorn Grows the Mighty Oak

photos of girls basketball practice


A cartoon girl spinning an acorn on her finger like a basketballThe gym at August Knodt Elementary is filled with the sound of sneakers squeaking, balls bouncing and whistles blowing: it’s basketball season in the Acorn League! For the first time since Spring 2020, competitive sports have returned to Manteca Unified elementary schools and not a moment too soon according to girls basketball coach (and PE teacher) Jarod Ballardo. He is excited to help his students grow as both players and as people.

Coach Ballardo normally has at least a few returning players on his roster, but this year they are starting from the very beginning; only one of the girls has played on a basketball team before. Practice opens with warm-ups and then focuses on fundamental drills: how to dribble, how to pass, how to shoot. According to him, they have the speed and athletic ability, but they need to build their stamina and develop their skills. One of the best parts of coaching for Ballardo is to see his players taking more pride in themselves and having more respect for others as the season progresses.

What they learn on the court is not just physical. The girls are learning how to communicate and how to be teammates after a time of limited face-to-face socialization. “Sports teach students many valuable life skills: responsibility, teamwork, critical thinking, and accepting criticism. One of the most important skills is communication. They learn how to communicate with peers and coaches,” said Acorn League Commissioner Christopher Graham. 

“The greatest lesson I learned from playing a sport was how to work as a team and work with others even when you had differences,” said Coach Ballardo. Working together as a team is reinforced throughout the practice. Even during basics, like running warm-up laps, the players are reminded to run as a team and not leave slower teammates behind. They are reminded to call out when they are “open” for a pass and to ask for help when needed.

“I’ve wanted to play for a long time,” said 7th grader Alana McGee. Mike McGee Sr. said his daughter has never played on a team before but grew up watching her parents coach and older sister play at Lathrop High. The return of the Acorn League gave her an opportunity to play that was not available the last couple of years. Alana also hopes that her basketball workouts prepare her for track try outs in the spring. 

Eighth grader Alysha Hassan is the sole returning player on the team and she has two goals this year: to score more points than when she last played in 6th grade and to get to know her teammates. “I know a few,” she said. “But I haven’t gotten to know them all yet.” The Acorn League is back and will again allow Alysha and other MUSD elementary school students to strive to meet their goals athletically and socially.

a basketballThe Acorn League is MUSD’s elementary athletic program open to 6th–8th graders. In the Acorn League, student-athletes play against other MUSD elementary school teams while learning the fundamentals of their sport, rules, and sportsmanship in a positive and inclusive environment. Sports offered are basketball in the winter, track and field in the spring, and volleyball and cross country in the fall.

For more information on the Acorn League, contact your child’s school or Acorn League Commissioner Christopher Graham.