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Only the start for Mitchell's summer youth basketball league

Dawson Smith shoots over Jackson Hartman during a Mitchell middle school summer league game on Tuesday at the Dakota Wesleyan Fieldhouse. (Jeremy Karll / Republic)

Todd Neuendorf is taking what he learned from his 11 years in Aberdeen and implementing it into the Mitchell boys basketball youth levels.

Tuesday marked the final night of the first year of Mitchell's middle school summer basketball league, an event 71 kids participated in this year. Players ranged from fourth to eighth graders.

"We got a good contingent in each group," Neuendorf said. "The fourth to sixth graders play together, and the seventh and eighth graders play together, and we split them into teams."

Teams play two 32-minute games every Tuesday for five weeks during the summer, but coaches control the logistics. They determine when players sub in and out to ensure equal playing time and changed the teams after the first day to keep the leagues competitive.

Neuendorf, who is entering his second season as Mitchell's boys basketball coach, made the summer youth league a staple while coaching at Aberdeen Roncalli, where he won the 2015 Class A title and made the state tournament seven times.

"Kids sign up for basketball to play, and you got to provide them an avenue to play the game," Neuendorf said. "We're trying to give them one night a week where they get play two games because four days a week we're putting them through skills and conditioning."

It also gives kids a basketball opportunity over the summer other than tournament basketball. That said, Neuendorf doesn't want this league to replace Mitchell's four tournament teams.

"This is for somebody who doesn't want to travel, doesn't want to go on the weekend," Neuendorf said. "This is just another opportunity for kids to be part of something and play the game. It's not (tournament basketball or summer league), it's a supplement. They can do both of it."

Neuendorf said Mitchell's summer league is identical to the one he ran in Aberdeen, with the main focus on development in a competitive environment. There's even a competitive ending, as teams play in a tournament on the final night, and the winners take home a plaque. He hopes this league brings the same positive impact.

"Some of those (Aberdeen) kids ended up winning the state tournament with us, so it's kind of fun to watch them grow," Neuendorf said. "They had a basketball in their hands all the time. That's kind of what it takes."

Those types of results are down the road, though. Right now, Neuendorf is happy with the turnout in the league's first year, but he's not satisfied. He hopes to move the games to Monday next summer so there'll be less conflict with the baseball schedule.

But he's not worried about promoting the league as he says, "anything that's good promotes itself."

Something that adds credibility to Mitchell's summer league is the officiating crew. Nearly all of their referees are certified officials, including NCAA referee and Mitchell resident Kelly Pfeifer.

It's also been beneficial to have another coach running the league every Tuesday, allowing Neuendorf to coach in Sioux Falls.

"This has been coach (Ryker) Kreutzfeldt's program for the summer, so I have to give credit to him for having everything organized and ready to go," Neuendorf said.

Neuendorf believes the structure of the league is intriguing to youth players, and it's only a matter of time before the league takes off and sees a continued rise in participation.

"Once people understand what's going on with the league, and what it is, I think it's going to grow. It's going to get bigger and bigger," Neuendorf said. "Our hope is to get it up to 100 kids next year."

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