Having a B.A.L.L.: New camp for Lawrence girls not just about basketball

Aug. 7—LAWRENCE — It was a great opportunity for 43 girls from Lawrence.

Several hours of basketball instruction, sports tech T-shirts and shorts, and breakfast and lunch. All for free.

But what transpired over at Central Catholic for three days last week, "Basketball and Life Lessons," or B.A.L.L., was much, much more.

And that's not just referring to the leather basketball and backpack loaded with school supplies that every camper received upon leaving on Thursday.

It was also about empowerment: Female empowerment in particular.

Of the 60 people in the gym, there were only two males, including B.A.L.L. founder Pat Costello, and camp "photographer" Steve Kelley.

"This is awesome," said Siena Victor, 12, a rising seventh grader at the Frost School. "Sometimes we feel like we don't always get the privileges the boys get. I've learned a lot about basketball and about other things."

The "Life Lessons" part is really what drove Costello to meet with Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence leaders in April.

It apparently was an easy sell.

"This was a great idea and we were all on board," said Amanda Hinchcliffe, a 12-year program director at the club. "This is a great opportunity for our girls. There are so many role models for them here, girls coaching who used to attend the club. This isn't just about basketball. It's about seeing women can be leaders and are leaders."

This is not Costello's first rodeo when it comes to looking out for girls and basketball. In 2014, he started a fall league for Merrimack Valley high school girls' teams, which is now a non-profit called "Off-Season Hoops."

This camp is under the same umbrella.

Costello "stole" the idea from the old Academic Basketball Awareness (ABA) Camp, created by former Merrimack men's basketball coach Bert Hammel, who passed away in October of 2018.

"Seeing the impact Bert's camp had on those boys made a lasting impression on me," said Costello, referring to the week-long overnight camp for 150 boys from the club in which the campers stayed on Merrimack's campus.

"When I started my organization nine years ago I had a vision to one day offer a similar, smaller scale summer program to kids within my community," said Costello. "I had hoped to start this type of initiative a few years ago, but got side-tracked with pandemic."

Costello's experience with finding sponsors for the fall girls high school basketball league helped immensely, as his organization was able to get local eateries to donate lunches and other businesses to help pay other expenses.

Central Catholic also stepped up offering use of the gym. Central's girls basketball coach Casey Grange worked the camp, too, along with a few of her players.

The girls arrived at the club by 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and were bused over to Central Catholic for the 8:30 a.m. start.

The mornings were geared toward "life lessons," with the girls attending sessions about nutrition, body image, social media bullying, drug and alcohol addiction, self-esteem and other important issues.

Then it was lunch, which was donated by The Party Connection and Borelli's Italian Deli.

The afternoons were for basketball, with two divisions — WNBA and College. There were three teams in each division.

Another highlight was having two successful, female speakers — Ch. 7 reporter Sabrina Silva and Kristen McDonnell, the only woman coaching a boys' high school team (Norwood High) in the state.

"We're hoping to grow this next year," said Stephanie Sullivan, a 14-year program director at the club. "This has been a special experience for our girls, in a lot of ways."

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.